Indexed on: 07 Mar '08Published on: 07 Mar '08Published in: The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Serotonergic neurons project widely throughout the CNS and modulate many different brain functions. Particularly important, but controversial, are the contributions of serotonin (5-HT) neurons to respiratory and thermoregulatory control. To better define the roles of 5-HT neurons in breathing and thermoregulation, we took advantage of a unique conditional knock-out mouse in which Lmx1b is genetically deleted in Pet1-expressing cells (Lmx1b(f/f/p)), resulting in near-complete absence of central 5-HT neurons. Here, we show that the hypercapnic ventilatory response in adult Lmx1b(f/f/p) mice was decreased by 50% compared with wild-type mice, whereas baseline ventilation and the hypoxic ventilatory response were normal. In addition, Lmx1b(f/f/p) mice rapidly became hypothermic when exposed to an ambient temperature of 4 degrees C, decreasing core temperature to 30 degrees C within 120 min. This failure of thermoregulation was caused by impaired shivering and nonshivering thermogenesis, whereas thermosensory perception and heat conservation were normal. Finally, intracerebroventricular infusion of 5-HT stimulated baseline ventilation, and rescued the blunted hypercapnic ventilatory response. These data identify a previously unrecognized role of 5-HT neurons in the CO(2) chemoreflex, whereby they enhance the response of the rest of the respiratory network to CO(2). We conclude that the proper function of the 5-HT system is particularly important under conditions of environmental stress and contributes significantly to the hypercapnic ventilatory response and thermoregulatory cold defense.