Diverse physiological properties of hypoglossal motoneurons innervating intrinsic and extrinsic tongue muscles

J. C. Wealing, M. Cholanian, E. G. Flanigan, R. B. Levine, R. F. Fregosi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The mammalian tongue contains eight muscles that collaborate to ensure that suckling, swallowing, and other critical functions are robust and reliable. Seven of the eight tongue muscles are innervated by hypoglossal motoneurons (XIIMNs). A somatotopic organization of the XII motor nucleus, defined in part by the mechanical action of a neuron's target muscle, has been described, but whether or not XIIMNs within a compartment are functionally specialized is unsettled. We hypothesize that developing XIIMNs are assigned unique functional properties that reflect the challenges that their target muscle faces upon the transition from in utero to terrestrial life. To address this, we studied XIIMNs that innervate intrinsic and extrinsic tongue muscles, because intrinsic muscles play a more prominent role in suckling than the extrinsic muscles. We injected dextran-rhodamine into the intrinsic longitudinal muscles (IL) and the extrinsic genioglossus, and physiologically characterized the labeled XIIMNs. Consistent with earlier work, IL XIIMNs (n = 150) were located more dorsally within the nucleus, and GG XIIMNs (n = 55) more ventrally. Whole cell recordings showed that resting membrane potential was, on average, 9 mV more depolarized in IL than in GG XIIMNs (P = 0.0019), and the firing threshold in response to current injection was lower in IL (-31 + 23 pA) than in GG XIIMNs (225 + 39 pA; P < 0.0001). We also found that the appearance of net outward currents in GG XIIMNs occurred at more hyperpolarized membrane potentials than IL XIIMNs, consistent with lower excitability in GG XIIMNs. These observations document muscle-specific functional specializations among XIIMNs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2054-2060
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2019


  • Hypoglossal
  • Intrinsic properties
  • Motoneuron
  • Tongue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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