Cervical spinal hemisection alters phrenic motor neuron glutamatergic mRNA receptor expression

Sabhya Rana, Wen Zhi Zhan, Gary C. Sieck, Carlos B. Mantilla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Upper cervical spinal cord injuries (SCI) disrupt descending inputs to phrenic motor neurons (PhMNs), impairing respiratory function. Unilateral spinal hemisection at C2 (C2SH) results in loss of ipsilateral rhythmic diaphragm muscle (DIAm) EMG activity associated with lower force behaviors accomplished by recruitment of smaller PhMNs in rats. Activity during higher force, non-ventilatory behaviors that recruit larger PhMNs is minimally impaired following C2SH. We previously showed neuroplasticity in glutamatergic receptor expression in PhMN post-C2SH with changes in NMDA receptor expression reflecting functional recovery over time. We hypothesize that C2SH-induced changes in glutamatergic receptor (AMPA and NMDA) mRNA expression in PhMNs vary with motor neuron size, with more pronounced changes in smaller PhMNs. Retrogradely-labelled PhMNs were classified in tertiles according to somal surface area and mRNA expression was measured using single-cell, multiplex fluorescence in situ hybridization. Ipsilateral to C2SH, a pronounced reduction in NMDA mRNA expression in PhMNs was evident at 3 days post-injury with similar impact on PhMNs in the lower size tertile (~68% reduction) and upper tertile (~60%); by 21 days, there was near complete restoration of NMDA receptor mRNA expression across all PhMNs. There were no changes in NMDA mRNA expression contralateral to C2SH. There were no changes in AMPA mRNA expression at PhMNs on either side of the spinal cord or at any time-point post-C2SH. In summary, following C2SH there is ipsilateral reduction in PhMN NMDA mRNA expression at 3 days that is not limited to smaller PhMN recruited in the generation of lower force ventilatory behaviors. The recovery of NMDA mRNA expression by 21 days post-C2SH is consistent with evidence of spontaneous recovery of ipsilateral DIAm activity at this timepoint. These findings suggest a possible role for NMDA receptor mediated glutamatergic signaling in mechanisms supporting postsynaptic neuroplasticity at the PhMN pool and recovery of DIAm activity after cervical SCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number114030
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - Jul 2022


  • Glutamate
  • Motor unit recruitment
  • Neuromotor control
  • Neurotransmitter
  • Phrenic motor neurons
  • Respiration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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