HPA axis, respiration and the airways in stress--a review in search of intersections

Biol Psychol. 2010 Apr;84(1):57-65. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2010.01.021. Epub 2010 Feb 6.


Given clear connections between respiratory distress and subjective anxiety, it is not surprising that respiratory psychophysiologists have been interested in the psychobiology of anxiety. Given parallel links between anxiety and stress, it is not surprising that the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) stress system has also been a focus in anxiety research. However, despite extensive work in respiratory psychophysiology and stress neuroendocrinology--and evidence that these systems are jointly dysregulated in anxiety disorders--direct studies of their interactions are rare. This paper reviews evidence for scientific intersections, providing an overview of the HPA axis, its psychobiology, and shared neural substrates for HPA and respiratory control. We examine HPA hormone effects on respiration, immune/inflammatory mediators, and lung maturation. We also examine respiratory/dyspnea effects on HPA axis. There are clear points of intersection in the neuroscience of respiration and stress. Given the importance of both systems to an organism's ability to survive and adapt in challenging and changing environments, further study of their interactions is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiology*
  • Respiration*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*