1. Developmental Biology
  2. Neuroscience
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Loss of Atoh1 from neurons regulating hypoxic and hypercapnic chemoresponses causes neonatal respiratory failure in mice

  1. Meike E van der Heijden
  2. Huda Y Zoghbi  Is a corresponding author
  1. Baylor College of Medicine, United States
  2. Texas Children's Hospital, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2018;7:e38455 doi: 10.7554/eLife.38455


Atoh1-null mice die at birth from respiratory failure, but the precise cause has remained elusive. Loss of Atoh1 from various components of the respiratory circuitry (e.g., the retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN)) have so far produced at most 50% neonatal lethality. To identify other Atoh1-lineage neurons that contribute to postnatal survival, we examined parabrachial complex neurons derived from the rostral rhombic lip (rRL) and found that they are activated during respiratory chemochallenges. Atoh1-deletion from the rRL does not affect survival, but causes apneas and respiratory depression during hypoxia, likely due to loss of projections to the preBötzinger Complex and RTN. Atoh1 thus promotes the development of the neural circuits governing hypoxic (rRL) and hypercapnic (RTN) chemoresponses, and combined loss of Atoh1 from these regions causes fully penetrant neonatal lethality. This work underscores the importance of modulating respiratory rhythms in response to chemosensory information during early postnatal life.

Data availability

All data generated or analysed during this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files. Source data files have been provided for Figures 2, 3, 4 and 6.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Meike E van der Heijden

    Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  2. Huda Y Zoghbi

    Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, Texas Children's Hospital, Houston, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    Huda Y Zoghbi, Senior editor, eLife.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-0700-3349


American Heart Association (Predoctoral fellowship award number 17PRE33660616)

  • Meike E van der Heijden

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • Huda Y Zoghbi

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Animal experimentation: All animals were housed in a Level 3, AALAS-certified facility on a 14hr light cycle. Husbandry, housing, euthanasia, and experimental guidelines were reviewed and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) of Baylor College of Medicine (protocol number: AN1013).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Jan-Marino Ramirez, Seattle Children's Research Institute and University of Washington, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: May 17, 2018
  2. Accepted: July 1, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: July 4, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: July 31, 2018 (version 2)


© 2018, van der Heijden & Zoghbi

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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