Serotonin has been hypothesized to play an important role in the central control of motor function. Consistent with this hypothesis, virtually all serotonergic neurons within the medullary nuclei raphe obscurus and raphe pallidus in cats are activated in response to specific motor challenges. To determine whether the response profile of serotonergic neurons in the midbrain is similar to that observed in the medulla, the single-unit activity of serotonergic dorsal raphe nucleus cells was studied during three specific motor activities: treadmill-induced locomotion, hypercarbia-induced ventilatory response and spontaneous feeding. In contrast to the results obtained for medullary raphe cells, none of the serotonergic dorsal raphe cells studied (n=26) demonstrated increased firing during treadmill-induced locomotion. A subset of serotonergic dorsal raphe cells (8/36) responded to the hypercarbic ventilatory challenge with increased firing rates that were directly related to the fraction of inspired carbon dioxide, and a non- overlapping subset of cells (6/31) was activated during feeding. All feeding- on cells demonstrated a rapid activation and de-activation coincident with feeding onset and offset, respectively. Although the proportions of serotonergic cells activated by hypercarbia of feeding in the dorsal raphe nucleus were similar to those found in the medullary raphe, there were several major distinctions in the response characteristics for the two cell groups. In contrast to the medullary serotonergic neurons, only a minority of dorsal raphe nucleus serotonergic neurons responded to a motor challenge. Overall, the above results suggest very different roles for the midbrain and medullary serotonergic neurons in response to motor activities.
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