The neural inspiratory activity originates from a ventrolateral medullary region called the pre-Bötzinger complex (preBötC), yet the mechanism underlying respiratory rhythmogenesis is not completely understood. Recently, the role of not only neurons but astrocytes in the central respiratory control has attracted considerable attention. Here we report our discovery that an intracellular calcium rise in a subset of putative astrocytes precedes inspiratory neuronal firing in rhythmically active slices. Functional calcium imaging from hundreds of preBötC cells revealed that a subset of putative astrocytes exhibited rhythmic calcium elevations preceding inspiratory neuronal activity with a time lag of approximately 2 s. These preinspiratory putative astrocytes maintained their rhythmic activities even during the blockade of neuronal activity with tetrodotoxin, whereas the rhythm frequency was lowered and the intercellular phases of these rhythms were decoupled. In addition, optogenetic stimulation of preBötC putative astrocytes induced firing of inspiratory neurons. These findings raise the possibility that astrocytes in the preBötC are actively involved in respiratory rhythm generation in rhythmically active slices.
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