Effects of leptin and obesity on the upper airway function

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 May;112(10):1637-43. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01222.2011. Epub 2012 Feb 16.


Obesity is associated with alterations in upper airway collapsibility during sleep. Obese, leptin-deficient mice demonstrate blunted ventilatory control, leading us to hypothesize that (1) obesity and leptin deficiency would predispose to worsening neuromechanical upper airway function and that (2) leptin replacement would acutely reverse neuromuscular defects in the absence of weight loss. In age-matched, anesthetized, spontaneously breathing C57BL/6J (BL6) and ob(-)/ob(-) mice, we characterized upper airway pressure-flow dynamics during ramp decreases in nasal pressure (P(N)) to determine the passive expiratory critical pressure (P(CRIT)) and active responses to reductions in P(N), including the percentage of ramps showing inspiratory flow limitation (IFL; frequency), the P(N) threshold at which IFL developed, maximum inspiratory airflow (Vi(max)), and genioglossus electromyographic (EMG(GG)) activity. Elevations in body weight were associated with progressive elevations in P(CRIT) (0.1 ± 0.02 cmH(2)O/g), independent of mouse strain. P(CRIT) was also elevated in ob(-)/ob(-) compared with BL6 mice (1.6 ± 0.1 cmH(2)O), independent of weight. Both obesity and leptin deficiency were associated with significantly higher IFL frequency and P(N) threshold and lower VI(max). Very obese ob(-)/ob(-) mice treated with leptin compared with nontreated mice showed a decrease in IFL frequency (from 63.5 ± 2.9 to 30.0 ± 8.6%) and P(N) threshold (from -0.8 ± 1.1 to -5.6 ± 0.8 cmH(2)O) and increase in VI(max) (from 354.1 ± 25.3 to 659.0 ± 71.8 μl/s). Nevertheless, passive P(CRIT) in leptin-treated mice did not differ significantly from that seen in nontreated ob(-)/ob(-) mice. The findings suggest that weight and leptin deficiency produced defects in upper airway neuromechanical control and that leptin reversed defects in active neuromuscular responses acutely without reducing mechanical loads.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electromyography
  • Infusions, Subcutaneous
  • Leptin / administration & dosage
  • Leptin / deficiency
  • Leptin / genetics
  • Leptin / metabolism*
  • Lung / innervation
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Pressure
  • Pulmonary Ventilation
  • Recombinant Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Respiratory Mechanics
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / etiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / genetics
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / metabolism
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Tidal Volume
  • Weight Gain


  • Leptin
  • Recombinant Proteins