Original Article


, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 40-48

The Effects of Aging on Hypoglossal Motoneurons in Rats

  • Emilie C. SchwarzAffiliated withDepartment of Comparative Biosciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • , Jodi M. ThompsonAffiliated withDepartment of Comparative Biosciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • , Nadine P. ConnorAffiliated withDepartment of Surgery and Communicative Disorders, University of Wisconsin–Madison Email author 
  • , Mary BehanAffiliated withDepartment of Comparative Biosciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison

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Aging can result in a loss of neuronal cell bodies and a decrease in neuronal size in some regions of the brain and spinal cord. Motoneuron loss in the spinal cord is thought to contribute to the progressive decline in muscle mass and strength that occurs with age (sarcopenia). Swallowing disorders represent a large clinical problem in elderly persons; however, age-related alterations in cranial motoneurons that innervate muscles involved in swallowing have been understudied. We aimed to determine if age-related alterations occurred in the hypoglossal nucleus in the brainstem. If present, these changes might help explain alterations at the neuromuscular junction and changes in the contractile properties of tongue muscle that have been reported in older rats. We hypothesized that with increasing age there would be a loss of motoneurons and a reduction in neuronal size and the number of primary dendrites associated with each hypoglossal motoneuron. Neurons in the hypoglossal nucleus were visualized with the neuronal marker NeuN in young (9–10 months), middle-aged (24–25 months), and old (32–33 months) male F344/BN rats. Hypoglossal motoneurons were retrograde-labeled with injections of Cholera Toxin β into the genioglossus muscle of the tongue and visualized using immunocytochemistry. Results indicated that the number of primary dendrites of hypoglossal motoneurons decreased significantly with age, while no age-associated changes were found in the number or size of hypoglossal motoneurons. Loss of primary dendrites could reduce the number of synaptic inputs and thereby impair function.


Deglutition Deglutition disorders Sarcopenia Cranial motoneurons Genioglossus muscle Tongue Aging