The Journal Of Comparative Neurology
The rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM) is a brain region involved in normal regulation of the cardiovascular system and heightened sympathoexcitatory states of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Among major risk factors for CVD, sedentary lifestyles contribute to higher mortality than other modifiable risk factors. Previous studies suggest excessive glutamatergic excitation of presympathetic neurons in the RVLM occurs in sedentary animals. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine neuroplasticity in the glutamatergic system in the RVLM of sedentary and physically active rats. We hypothesized that relative to active rats, sedentary rats would exhibit higher expression of glutamate N‐methyl‐d‐aspartic acid receptor subunits (GluN), phosphoGluN1, and the excitatory scaffold protein postsynaptic density 95 (PSD95), while achieving higher glutamate levels. Male Sprague–Dawley rats (4 weeks old) were divided into sedentary and active (running wheel) conditions for 10–12 weeks. We used retrograde tracing/triple‐labeling techniques, western blotting, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy. We report in sedentary versus physically active rats: 1) fewer bulbospinal non‐C1 neurons positive for GluN1, 2) significantly higher expression of GluN1 and GluN2B but lower levels of phosphoGluN1 (pSer896) and PSD95, and 3) higher levels of glutamate in the RVLM. Higher GluN expression is consistent with enhanced sympathoexcitation in sedentary animals; however, a more complex neuroplasticity occurs within subregions of the ventrolateral medulla. Our results in rodents may also indicate that alterations in glutamatergic excitation of the RVLM contribute to the increased incidence of CVD in humans who lead sedentary lifestyles. Thus, there is a strong need to further pursue mechanisms of inactivity‐related neuroplasticity in the RVLM.