1. Experiments were carried out in unanaesthetized fetal sheep to evaluate the significance of non-N-methyl-D-aspartate (non-NMDA) receptor neurotransmission in the expression of fetal breathing movements. Catheters placed in the trachea and amniotic fluid and electrodes beneath the parietal bones and in the nuchal muscle were used to monitor breath amplitude and frequency and fetal behavioural state. 2. Experiments were carried out by instillation of neurotransmitter agonists, antagonists or receptor modulators into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of the fourth ventricle by means of a chronic catheter introduced through the foramen magnum. 3. The non-NMDA receptor antagonist 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (CNQX) decreased respiratory rate in a dose dependent manner by lengthening both inspiratory time (T(i),) and expiratory time (T(e)). 4. Kainate and (R,S)-α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionic acid (AMPA) increased breath amplitude. Instillation of the antagonist 2,3-dihydro-6-nitro-7-sulphamoyl-benzo(f) quinoxaline (NBQX) prior to administering AMPA resulted in apnoea, which was not overcome by the agonist. 5. Cyclothiazide, which has been shown to prevent desensitization of AMPA receptors, caused an increase in both breath amplitude (152 ± 73%; mean ± S.D.; P = 0.004) and frequency (46 ± 37%; P = 0.049). 6. These data suggest that glutamate acting at non-NMDA receptors is an essential component for the expression of fetal breathing movements, and that under resting conditions these non-NMDA receptors are desensitized following glutamate synaptic release.
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