Our purpose was to examine the influence of hypercapnia on the activity of motoneurons innervating the transversus abdominis and internal oblique abdominal muscles, and of integrated phrenic and abdominal motor nerve activities. Studies were done in nine adult cats that were decerebrated, vagotomized, thoracotomized, paralyzed and ventilated mechanically. Of 42 motoneurons examined, 24 showed strong respiratory modulation (RM neurons), with the discharge confined primarily to the central expiratory period. The remaining 18 motoneurons discharged tonically, and failed to show respiratory modulation even at increased levels of central respiratory drive. Hyperoxic hypercapnia augmented the activities of the phrenic and abdominal nerves and increased the early expiratory discharge frequency of the RM neurons. The hypercapnia-induced increase in firing frequency during early expiration was accompanied by a corresponding decline in late expiration, and a virtual abolition of the inspiratory activity in the few neurons that discharged in this phase under normocapnic conditions. Finally, hypercapnia induced an increase in the number of spikes generated during each expiratory period in about half of the RM neurons, whereas the remaining cells showed a decrease. Thus, the increased peak activity of the integrated whole abdominal nerve burst with hypercapnia was brought about by a shift in the temporal pattern of motoneuron firing, or by an increase in the number of spikes generated during the expiratory period. The steep rate of rise and the pronounced early expiratory peak observed in the integrated abdominal nerve burst during hypercapnia in this preparation are consistent with thw increase in motoneuron firing frequency during the early stages of the expiratory phase.
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