Phrenic motor neuron loss in an animal model of early onset hypertonia

Joline E. Brandenburg, Matthew J. Fogarty, Alyssa D. Brown, Gary C. Sieck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Phrenic motor neuron (PhMN) development in early onset hypertonia is poorly understood. Respiratory disorders are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in individuals with early onset hypertonia, such as cerebral palsy (CP), but they are largely overshadowed by a focus on physical function in this condition. Furthermore, while the brain is the focus of CP research, motor neurons, via the motor unit and neurotransmitter signaling, are the targets in clinical interventions for hypertonia. Furthermore, critical periods of spinal cord and motor unit development also coincide with the timing that the supposed brain injury occurs in CP. Using an animal model of early-onset spasticity (spa mouse [B6.Cg-Glrbspa/J] with a glycine receptor mutation), we hypothesized that removal of effective glycinergic neurotransmitter inputs to PhMNs during development will result in fewer PhMNs and reduced PhMN somal size at maturity. Adult spa (Glrb-/-), and wild-type (Glrb+/+) mice underwent unilateral retrograde labeling of PhMNs via phrenic nerve dip in tetramethylrhodamine. After three days, mice were euthanized, perfused with 4% paraformaldehyde, and the spinal cord excised and processed for confocal imaging. Spa mice had ~30% fewer PhMNs (P = 0.005), disproportionately affecting larger PhMNs. Additionally, a ~22% reduction in PhMN somal surface area (P = 0.019), an 18% increase in primary dendrites (P < 0.0001), and 24% decrease in dendritic surface area (P = 0.014) were observed. Thus, there are fewer larger PhMNs in spa mice. Fewer and smaller PhMNs may contribute to impaired diaphragm neuromotor control and contribute to respiratory morbidity and mortality in conditions of early onset hypertonia. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Phrenic motor neuron (PhMN) development in early-onset hypertonia is poorly understood. Yet, respiratory disorders are a common cause of morbidity and mortality. In spa mice, an animal model of early-onset hypertonia, we found ~30% fewer PhMNs, compared with controls. This PhMN loss disproportionately affected larger PhMNs. Thus, the number and heterogeneity of the PhMN pool are decreased in spa mice, likely contributing to the hypertonia, impaired neuromotor control, and respiratory disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1682-1690
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Diaphragm
  • Glycine receptor
  • Spasticity
  • Spinal cord

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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