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Postinspiratory complex acts as a gating mechanism regulating swallow-breathing coordination and other laryngeal behaviors

Huff, A;Karlen-Amarante, M;Oliveira, LM;Ramirez, JM;

Breathing needs to be tightly coordinated with upper airway behaviors, such as swallowing. Discoordination leads to aspiration pneumonia, the leading cause of death in neurodegenerative diseases. Here we study the role of the postinspiratory complex, (PiCo) in coordinating breathing and swallowing. Using optogenetic approaches in freely breathing-anesthetized ChATcre, Vglut2cre and co-transmission of ChATcre/Vglut2FlpO mice reveals this small brainstem microcircuit acts as a central gating mechanism for airway protective behaviors. Activation of PiCo during inspiration or the beginning of postinspiration triggers swallow behavior, while there is a higher probability for stimulating laryngeal activation when activated further into expiration, suggesting PiCo’s role in swallow-breathing coordination. PiCo triggers consistent swallow behavior and preserves physiologic swallow motor sequence, while stimulates laryngeal activation variable to stimulation duration. Sufficient bilateral PiCo activation is necessary for gating function since activation of only a few PiCo neurons or unilateral activation leads to blurred behavioral response. Viral tracing experiments reveal projections from the caudal nucleus of the solitary tract (cNTS), the presumed swallow pattern generator (SPG), to PiCo and vice versa. However, PiCo does not directly connect to laryngeal muscles. Investigating PiCo’s role in swallow and laryngeal coordination will aid in understanding discoordination in breathing and neurological diseases.