1. Synaptic responses of medial nucleus tractus solitarius (mNTS) neurons to solitary tract (ST) activation were studied in a horizontal brain slice preparation of the rat medulla. Slices included sections of ST sufficiently long that the ST could be electrically activated several millimeters from the recording site of cell bodies in mNTS. 2. Three types of synaptic events were evoked in response to ST stimulation: simple excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs), simple inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs), and complex EPSP-IPSP sequences. Simple EPSPs had substantially shorter latencies than IPSPs (3.39 ± 0.65 ms, mean ± SE, n = 42, vs. 5,86 ± 0.71 ms. n = 6, respectively). 3. EPSP amplitude increased linearly with increasing hyperpolarization, with an extrapolated reversal potential near 0 mV. 4. EPSPs were maximal at <0.5 Hz of sustained, constant frequency ST stimulation (n = 14). EPSP amplitude declined to an average of 57.5% of control at 10 Hz after 2 s of sustained stimulation. With 1 min of sustained, 100-Hz stimulation, EPSP amplitude declined to near zero. 5. With stimuli intermittently delivered as 100-ms bursts every 300 ms, generally comparable average EPSPs were evoked during constant and burst patterns of ST stimulation. The amplitude of the initial EPSP in each burst was very well maintained even at intraburst stimulation rates of 100 Hz. 6. At resting membrane potentials, low constant frequencies of ST stimulation (<5 Hz) reliably elicited action potentials and suppressed spontaneous spiking, but higher frequencies led to spike failures (>85% at 100 Hz). Between 5 and 10 Hz, this periodic stimulation-suppression cycle clearly entrained action potential activity to the ST stimuli. Similar patterns of current pulses (5 ms) reliably evoked action potentials with each pulse to higher frequencies (50 Hz) without failures, and entrainment was similar to ST stimulation. 7. In a subset of nucleus tractus solitarius (NTS) neurons (3 of 9 studied), bursts of ST stimuli were as much as 50% more effective at transmitting high frequencies (>10 Hz) of ST stimulation than the equivalent constant frequencies (P < 0.0001). 8. The long-latency simple IPSPs with no preceding EPSPs reversed to become depolarizing at potentials more negative than 62.9 ± 7.0 mV (n = 5) and were blocked by the non-N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (n = 3). The ST stimulation frequency- response relation of these IPSPs was similar to that for the short-latency EPSP response excited by ST synapses. Thus these IPSPs appear to be activated polysynaptically via a glutamatergic-GABAergic sequence in response to ST activation. 9. The results suggest that sensory afferent synapses in mNTS have limited transmission of high-frequency inputs. Both synaptic transmission and the characteristics of the postsynaptic neuron importantly contribute to the action potential transmission from afferent to NTS neuron and beyond. This overall frequency response limitation may contribute to the accommodation of reflex responses from sensory afferent inputs such as arterial baroreceptors within their physiological discharge frequency range.
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