Projection target-specific action of nicotine in the caudal nucleus of the solitary tract

Lin Feng, Victor V. Uteshev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The brainstem nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS) is the key integrating relay in the central processing of sensory information from the thoracic and from most subdiaphragmatic viscera. Modulation of neuronal excitability and synaptic activity in the NTS by nicotinic agents can have potent effects on vital physiological functions, such as feeding, digestion, respiration, and blood circulation. Caudal NTS neurons demonstrate considerable heterogeneity in projection targets, synaptic properties, and expression of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). However, despite its heterogeneity, the caudal NTS may contain discrete subsets of neurons with unique projection target-specific properties. To test this hypothesis, we used in vivo fluorescent tracing and ex vivo patch-clamp electrophysiology to evaluate responsiveness to nicotine of anatomically identified caudal NTS neurons that project to the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and the brainstem caudal ventrolateral medulla (CVLM). The results of this study demonstrate that responsiveness to nicotine correlates with where the neurons project. Specifically, PVN-projecting caudal NTS neurons respond to nicotine only presynaptically (i.e., via activation of presynaptic nAChRs and potentiation of synaptic release of glutamate), suggesting indirect, glutamate-dependent effects of nicotine on the PVN-projecting NTS circuitry. By contrast, CVLM-projecting caudal NTS neurons exhibit only limited presynaptic, but dominant somatodendritic, responsiveness to nicotine, suggesting that the effects of nicotine on the CVLM-projecting NTS circuitry are direct and largely glutamate independent. Understanding the relationships among function-specific brainstem/hypothalamic neuronal networks, nuclei, and individual neurons could help develop therapies targeting identifiable neuronal circuits to offset impaired autonomic homeostasis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1560-1572
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2014


  • Glutamatergic
  • NAChR
  • Nicotinic
  • Nucleus ambiguous
  • Paraventricular
  • Presynaptic
  • Solitary tract
  • Tractus solitarius
  • Ventrolateral medulla


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