Breathing: rhythmicity, plasticity, chemosensitivity

Annu Rev Neurosci. 2003:26:239-66. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.26.041002.131103. Epub 2003 Feb 13.


Breathing is a vital behavior that is particularly amenable to experimental investigation. We review recent progress on three problems of broad interest. (i) Where and how is respiratory rhythm generated? The preBötzinger Complex is a critical site, whereas pacemaker neurons may not be essential. The possibility that coupled oscillators are involved is considered. (ii) What are the mechanisms that underlie the plasticity necessary for adaptive changes in breathing? Serotonin-dependent long-term facilitation following intermittent hypoxia is an important example of such plasticity, and a model that can account for this adaptive behavior is discussed. (iii) Where and how are the regulated variables CO2 and pH sensed? These sensors are essential if breathing is to be appropriate for metabolism. Neurons with appropriate chemosensitivity are spread throughout the brainstem; their individual properties and collective role are just beginning to be understood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Periodicity*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1 / physiology
  • Respiration*
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology
  • Serotonin / metabolism


  • Receptors, Neurokinin-1
  • Serotonin