Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Premkumar, Louis

Second Advisor

Uteshev, Victor


The caudal nucleus tractus solitarius (cNTS) is the key recipient of the primary afferents from visceral sensory neurons and also an important site that processes and integrates gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and respiratory functions. Glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid are the major neurotransmitters within the NTS, but studies have suggested that nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) and transient receptor potential (TRP) channels can modulate excitatory/inhibitory neurotransmission. I have designed studies to understand the role of nAChRs and TRP channels in the modulation of neurotransmission in the cNTS. In the first aim, experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that the cNTS contains function-specific subsets of neurons whose responsiveness to nicotine correlates with the target of their axonal projections. cNTS neurons send axonal projections to brain regions such as parabrachial nucleus (PBN), hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN), nucleus ambiguous (NA), dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (DMV) and the caudal ventrolateral medulla (CVLM) and are involved in integrating autonomic and neuroendocrine functions. Presynaptic/postsynaptic modulation by nAChRs differ in the axonal projections of cNTS neurons, studying of which would provide better understanding of this complex integration. In vivo fluorescent tracing combined with in vitro slice patch-clamp electrophysiological recordings from anatomically identified caudal NTS neurons were used to study the expression and function of nAChRs (mainly á3â4 containing nAChRs) in the cNTS. Results from these studies demonstrate that presynaptic and postsynaptic responsiveness of caudal NTS neurons to nicotine correlates with the areas the neurons project to in the following order of prevalence: DMV>PVN>NA>CVLM>PBN (for presynaptic responses) and DMV>CVLM>PBN>NA>PVN (for postsynaptic responses). In the second aim, experiments were designed to test the hypothesis that nociceptive TRP channels TRPV1 (vanilloid) and TRPA1 (ankyrin) modulate synaptic transmission in the NTS. As a result of this modulation, the efferent functions that control autonomic and visceral functions will be regulated and account for the changes in autonomic neuropathy as patients with diabetes develop significant alterations in blood pressure and heart rate as well as silent myocardial ischemia as a result of blunted pain carrying ability. Results obtained from these studies demonstrated that TRPV1 and TRPA1 mRNA were detected in the dorsal root ganglion (DRG), but not in the NTS. Immunofluorescence studies revealed that TRPV1 and TRPA1 were expressed in the solitary tract central sensory terminals inputs to NTS but not in NTS neurons. This suggests that TRPV1 and TRPA1 are expressed only in solitary tract. Administration of capsaicin (TRPV1 agonist) and allyl isothiocyanate (AITC, TRPA1 agonist) both increased the frequency of s/mEPSCs without affecting spontaneous and miniature inhibitory postsynaptic currents (s/mIPSCs). Next, the modulation of TRPV1- and TRPA1-induced responses by utilizing a PKC activator (PDBu) was examined. Incubation of slices with PDBu synergistically increased the mEPSC frequency following capsaicin application suggesting an increased receptor affinity; however following application of AITC there was no significant change, suggesting that activation by covalent modification does not enhance binding affinity. Finally, the specificity of TRPV1 and TRPA1 effect on synaptic transmission by ablating TRPV1 and TRPA1were tested. There was no modulation of synaptic transmission in these animals, further confirming that capsaicin- and AITC-mediated modulation of synaptic transmission are specifically mediated by TRPV1 and TRPA1, respectively. Furthermore, animals with painful diabetic peripheral neuropthy exhibited enhanced synaptic activity at the NTS, suggesting a role in nociception and other visceral functions. In summary, nAChRs, TRPV1 and TRPA1 are expressed in the NTS and activation of which modulate excitatory synaptic transmission. The results obtained from these studies and their interpretation may provide a better understanding of the central mechanism of modulation on efferent functions from NTS that regulate cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal functions.




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