Two nuclei can organize the movements for ingesting fluids in mammals. IRtPhox2b and Peri5Atoh1 are located in the intermediate reticular formation of the medulla. They are premotor to all jaw-opening and tongue muscles.
It has long been known that orofacial movements for feeding can be triggered, coordinated, and often rhythmically organized at the level of the brainstem, without input from higher centers. We uncover two nuclei that can organize the movements for ingesting fluids in mammals. These neuronal groups, defined by unique transcriptional codes and developmental origins, IRtPhox2b and Peri5Atoh1, are located, respectively, in the intermediate reticular formation of the medulla and around the motor nucleus of the trigeminal nerve. They are premotor to all jaw-opening and tongue muscles. Stimulation of either, in awake animals, opens the jaw, while IRtPhox2b alone also protracts the tongue. Moreover, stationary stimulation of IRtPhox2b entrains a rhythmic alternation of tongue protraction and retraction, synchronized with jaw opening and closing, that mimics lapping. Finally, fiber photometric recordings show that IRtPhox2b is active during volitional lapping. Our study identifies one of the long hypothesized subcortical nuclei underpinning a stereotyped feeding behavior.