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1.  A Novel Neural Substrate for the Transformation of Olfactory Inputs into Motor Output 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(12):e1000567.
Anatomical and physiological experiments in the lamprey reveal the neural circuit involved in transforming olfactory inputs into motor outputs, which was previously unknown in a vertebrate.
It is widely recognized that animals respond to odors by generating or modulating specific motor behaviors. These reactions are important for daily activities, reproduction, and survival. In the sea lamprey, mating occurs after ovulated females are attracted to spawning sites by male sex pheromones. The ubiquity and reliability of olfactory-motor behavioral responses in vertebrates suggest tight coupling between the olfactory system and brain areas controlling movements. However, the circuitry and the underlying cellular neural mechanisms remain largely unknown. Using lamprey brain preparations, and electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and tract tracing experiments, we describe the neural substrate responsible for transforming an olfactory input into a locomotor output. We found that olfactory stimulation with naturally occurring odors and pheromones induced large excitatory responses in reticulospinal cells, the command neurons for locomotion. We have also identified the anatomy and physiology of this circuit. The olfactory input was relayed in the medial part of the olfactory bulb, in the posterior tuberculum, in the mesencephalic locomotor region, to finally reach reticulospinal cells in the hindbrain. Activation of this olfactory-motor pathway generated rhythmic ventral root discharges and swimming movements. Our study bridges the gap between behavior and cellular neural mechanisms in vertebrates, identifying a specific subsystem within the CNS, dedicated to producing motor responses to olfactory inputs.
Author Summary
Animal behaviors, including locomotion, can be driven by olfactory cues, such as pheromones or food sources. The neural substrate (neuroanatomical connections and physiological signals) that permits the transformation of olfactory inputs into locomotor responses is still unknown in vertebrates. In the present study, we identify such a neural substrate in the lamprey. Here, olfactory signals from the outside world are transmitted to the reticulospinal neurons in the lower brainstem, which provide the descending locomotor command to the spinal cord. We found that this circuit originates in the medial portion of the olfactory bulb and that connections are made in the posterior tuberculum, a ventral diencephalic structure. These inputs are then conveyed to the mesencephalic locomotor region, known to project extensively to brainstem reticulospinal neurons and thereby activate locomotion. Our results illuminate a specific dedicated neural substrate in the brain of lampreys that underlies olfactory-motor responses, which is activated by both food-related or pheromonal olfactory cues. It will be of interest to determine whether such a pathway is preserved in all vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC3006349  PMID: 21203583
2.  Assessment of the Potential Role of Muscle Spindle Mechanoreceptor Afferents in Chronic Muscle Pain in the Rat Masseter Muscle 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11131.
The phenotype of large diameter sensory afferent neurons changes in several models of neuropathic pain. We asked if similar changes also occur in “functional” pain syndromes.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Acidic saline (AS, pH 4.0) injections into the masseter muscle were used to induce persistent myalgia. Controls received saline at pH 7.2. Nocifensive responses of Experimental rats to applications of Von Frey Filaments to the masseters were above control levels 1–38 days post-injection. This effect was bilateral. Expression of c-Fos in the Trigeminal Mesencephalic Nucleus (NVmes), which contains the somata of masseter muscle spindle afferents (MSA), was above baseline levels 1 and 4 days after AS. The resting membrane potentials of neurons exposed to AS (n = 167) were hyperpolarized when compared to their control counterparts (n = 141), as were their thresholds for firing, high frequency membrane oscillations (HFMO), bursting, inward and outward rectification. The amplitude of HFMO was increased and spontaneous ectopic firing occurred in 10% of acid-exposed neurons, but never in Controls. These changes appeared within the same time frame as the observed nocifensive behaviour. Ectopic action potentials can travel centrally, but also antidromically to the peripheral terminals of MSA where they could cause neurotransmitter release and activation of adjacent fibre terminals. Using immunohistochemistry, we confirmed that annulospiral endings of masseter MSA express the glutamate vesicular transporter VGLUT1, indicating that they can release glutamate. Many capsules also contained fine fibers that were labelled by markers associated with nociceptors (calcitonin gene-related peptide, Substance P, P2X3 receptors and TRPV1 receptors) and that expressed the metabotropic glutamate receptor, mGluR5. Antagonists of glutamatergic receptors given together with the 2nd injection of AS prevented the hypersensitivity observed bilaterally but were ineffective if given contralaterally.
Low pH leads to changes in several electrical properties of MSA, including initiation of ectopic action potentials which could propagate centrally but could also invade the peripheral endings causing glutamate release and activation of nearby nociceptors within the spindle capsule. This peripheral drive could contribute both to the transition to, and maintenance of, persistent muscle pain as seen in some “functional” pain syndromes.
PMCID: PMC2886111  PMID: 20559566

Results 1-2 (2)