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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 3905257, 10 pages
Research Article

Mechanisms Underlying Adaptation of Respiratory Network Activity to Modulatory Stimuli in the Mouse Embryo

Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives et Intégratives d’Aquitaine, CNRS UMR 5287, Université de Bordeaux, 33076 Bordeaux, France

Received 26 February 2016; Accepted 11 April 2016

Academic Editor: Mathias Dutschmann

Copyright © 2016 Marc Chevalier et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Breathing is a rhythmic behavior that requires organized contractions of respiratory effector muscles. This behavior must adapt to constantly changing conditions in order to ensure homeostasis, proper body oxygenation, and CO2/pH regulation. Respiratory rhythmogenesis is controlled by neural networks located in the brainstem. One area considered to be essential for generating the inspiratory phase of the respiratory rhythm is the preBötzinger complex (preBötC). Rhythmogenesis emerges from this network through the interplay between the activation of intrinsic cellular properties (pacemaker properties) and intercellular synaptic connections. Respiratory activity continuously changes under the impact of numerous modulatory substances depending on organismal needs and environmental conditions. The preBötC network has been shown to become active during the last third of gestation. But only little is known regarding the modulation of inspiratory rhythmicity at embryonic stages and even less on a possible role of pacemaker neurons in this functional flexibility during the prenatal period. By combining electrophysiology and calcium imaging performed on embryonic brainstem slice preparations, we provide evidence showing that embryonic inspiratory pacemaker neurons are already intrinsically sensitive to neuromodulation and external conditions (i.e., temperature) affecting respiratory network activity, suggesting a potential role of pacemaker neurons in mediating rhythm adaptation to modulatory stimuli in the embryo.