End-tidal CO2: an important parameter for a correct interpretation in functional brain studies using speech tasks

Neuroimage. 2013 Feb 1;66:71-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.10.025. Epub 2012 Oct 22.


The aim was to investigate the effect of different speech tasks, i.e. recitation of prose (PR), alliteration (AR) and hexameter (HR) verses and a control task (mental arithmetic (MA) with voicing of the result on end-tidal CO2 (PETCO2), cerebral hemodynamics and oxygenation. CO2 levels in the blood are known to strongly affect cerebral blood flow. Speech changes breathing pattern and may affect CO2 levels. Measurements were performed on 24 healthy adult volunteers during the performance of the 4 tasks. Tissue oxygen saturation (StO2) and absolute concentrations of oxyhemoglobin ([O2Hb]), deoxyhemoglobin ([HHb]) and total hemoglobin ([tHb]) were measured by functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and PETCO2 by a gas analyzer. Statistical analysis was applied to the difference between baseline before the task, 2 recitation and 5 baseline periods after the task. The 2 brain hemispheres and 4 tasks were tested separately. A significant decrease in PETCO2 was found during all 4 tasks with the smallest decrease during the MA task. During the recitation tasks (PR, AR and HR) a statistically significant (p<0.05) decrease occurred for StO2 during PR and AR in the right prefrontal cortex (PFC) and during AR and HR in the left PFC. [O2Hb] decreased significantly during PR, AR and HR in both hemispheres. [HHb] increased significantly during the AR task in the right PFC. [tHb] decreased significantly during HR in the right PFC and during PR, AR and HR in the left PFC. During the MA task, StO2 increased and [HHb] decreased significantly during the MA task. We conclude that changes in breathing (hyperventilation) during the tasks led to lower CO2 pressure in the blood (hypocapnia), predominantly responsible for the measured changes in cerebral hemodynamics and oxygenation. In conclusion, our findings demonstrate that PETCO2 should be monitored during functional brain studies investigating speech using neuroimaging modalities, such as fNIRS, fMRI to ensure a correct interpretation of changes in hemodynamics and oxygenation.

Keywords: End-tidal CO(2); Functional near-infrared spectroscopy; P(ET)CO(2); PaCO(2); Partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the arterial blood; Partial pressure of end-tidal carbon dioxide; Speech studies; fNIRS.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Carbon Dioxide*
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Respiration
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Carbon Dioxide