Dual oscillator model of the respiratory neuronal network generating quantal slowing of respiratory rhythm.
We developed a dual oscillator model to facilitate the understanding of dynamic interactions between the parafacial respiratory group (pFRG) and the preBötzinger complex (preBötC) neurons in the respiratory rhythm generation. Both neuronal groups were modeled as groups of 81 interconnected pacemaker neurons; the bursting cell model described by Butera and others [model 1 in Butera et al. (J Neurophysiol 81:382-397, 1999a)] were used to model the pacemaker neurons. We assumed (1) both pFRG and preBötC networks are rhythm generators, (2) preBötC receives excitatory inputs from pFRG, and pFRG receives inhibitory inputs from preBötC, and (3) persistent Na(+) current conductance and synaptic current conductances are randomly distributed within each population. Our model could reproduce 1:1 coupling of bursting rhythms between pFRG and preBötC with the characteristic biphasic firing pattern of pFRG neurons, i.e., firings during pre-inspiratory and post-inspiratory phases. Compatible with experimental results, the model predicted the changes in firing pattern of pFRG neurons from biphasic expiratory to monophasic inspiratory, synchronous with preBötC neurons. Quantal slowing, a phenomena of prolonged respiratory period that jumps non-deterministically to integer multiples of the control period, was observed when the excitability of preBötC network decreased while strengths of synaptic connections between the two groups remained unchanged, suggesting that, in contrast to the earlier suggestions (Mellen et al., Neuron 37:821-826, 2003; Wittmeier et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105(46):18000-18005, 2008), quantal slowing could occur without suppressed or stochastic excitatory synaptic transmission. With a reduced excitability of preBötC network, the breakdown of synchronous bursting of preBötC neurons was predicted by simulation. We suggest that quantal slowing could result from a breakdown of synchronized bursting within the preBötC.