Synchronized activation of sympathetic vasomotor, cardiac, and respiratory outputs by neurons in the midbrain colliculi

Kamon Iigaya, Flávia Camargos de Figueirêdo Müller-Ribeiro, Jouji Horiuchi, Lachlan M. McDowall, Eugene Nalivaiko, Marco A P Fontes, Roger A L Dampney

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20 Citations (Scopus)


The superior and inferior colliculi are believed to generate immediate and highly coordinated defensive behavioral responses to threatening visual and auditory stimuli. Activation of neurons in the superior and inferior colliculi have been shown to evoke increases in cardiovascular and respiratory activity, which may be components of more generalized stereotyped behavioral responses. In this study, we examined the possibility that there are "command neurons" within the colliculi that can simultaneously drive sympathetic and respiratory outputs. In anesthetized rats, microinjections of bicuculline (a GABAA receptor antagonist) into sites within a circumscribed region in the deep layers of the superior colliculus and in the central and external nuclei of the inferior colliculus evoked a response characterized by intense and highly synchronized bursts of renal sympathetic nerve activity (RSNA) and phrenic nerve activity (PNA). Each burst of RSNA had a duration of ~300-400 ms and occurred slightly later (peak to peak latency of 41 ± 8 ms) than the corresponding burst of PNA. The bursts of RSNA and PNA were also accompanied by transient increases in arterial pressure and, in most cases, heart rate. Synchronized bursts of RSNA and PNA were also evoked after neuromuscular blockade, artificial ventilation, and vagotomy and so were not dependent on afferent feedback from the lungs. We propose that the synchronized sympathetic-respiratory responses are driven by a common population of neurons, which may normally be activated by an acute threatening stimulus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R599-R610
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Arterial pressure
  • Command neuron
  • Defensive behavior
  • Heart rate


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