Descending modulation of laryngeal vagal sensory processing in the brainstem orchestrated by the submedius thalamic nucleus

Stuart B. Mazzone, Tara G. Bautista, Anthony J.M. Verberne, Matthew W. Trewella, Michael J. Farrell, Alice E. McGovern

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The nodose and jugular vagal ganglia supply sensory innervation to the airways and lungs. Jugular vagal airway sensory neurons wire into a brainstem circuit with ascending projections into the submedius thalamic nucleus (SubM) and ventrolateral orbital cortex (VLO), regions known to regulate the endogenous analgesia system. Here we investigate whether the SubM–VLO circuit exerts descending regulation over airway vagal reflexes in male and female rats using a range of neuroanatomical tracing, reflex physiology, and chemogenetic techniques. Anterograde and retrograde neuroanatomical tracing confirmed the connectivity of the SubM and VLO. Laryngeal stimulation in anesthetized rats reduced respiration, a reflex that was potently inhibited by activation of SubM. Conversely, inhibition of SubM potentiated laryngeal reflex responses, while prior lesions of VLO abolished the effects of SubM stimulation. In conscious rats, selective chemogenetic activation of SubM neurons specifically projecting to VLO significantly inhibited respiratory responses evoked by inhalation of the nociceptor stimulant capsaicin. Jugular vagal inputs to SubM via the medullary paratrigeminal nucleus were confirmed using anterograde transsynaptic conditional herpes viral tracing. Respiratory responses evoked by microinjections of capsaicin into the paratrigeminal nucleus were significantly attenuated by SubM stimulation, whereas those evoked via the nucleus of the solitary tract were unaltered. These data suggest that jugular vagal sensory pathways input to a nociceptive thalamocortical circuit capable of regulating jugular sensory processing in the medulla. This circuit organization suggests an intersection between vagal sensory pathways and the endogenous analgesia system, potentially important for understanding vagal sensory processing in health and mechanisms of hypersensitivity in disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9426-9439
Number of pages14
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number49
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2020


  • Airway innervation
  • Jugular vagal ganglia
  • Respiratory
  • Submedius thalamic nucleus
  • Vagus nerve
  • Ventrolateral orbital cortex

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