Pontine mechanisms of respiratory control

Compr Physiol. 2012 Oct;2(4):2443-69. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c100015.


Pontine respiratory nuclei provide synaptic input to medullary rhythmogenic circuits to shape and adapt the breathing pattern. An understanding of this statement depends on appreciating breathing as a behavior, rather than a stereotypic rhythm. In this review, we focus on the pontine-mediated inspiratory off-switch (IOS) associated with postinspiratory glottal constriction. Further, IOS is examined in the context of pontine regulation of glottal resistance in response to multimodal sensory inputs and higher commands, which in turn rules timing, duration, and patterning of respiratory airflow. In addition, network plasticity in respiratory control emerges during the development of the pons. Synaptic plasticity is required for dynamic and efficient modulation of the expiratory breathing pattern to cope with rapid changes from eupneic to adaptive breathing linked to exploratory (foraging and sniffing) and expulsive (vocalizing, coughing, sneezing, and retching) behaviors, as well as conveyance of basic emotions. The speed and complexity of changes in the breathing pattern of behaving animals implies that "learning to breathe" is necessary to adjust to changing internal and external states to maintain homeostasis and survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Airway Resistance / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Central Pattern Generators / growth & development
  • Central Pattern Generators / physiology
  • Glottis / physiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Pons / physiology*
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology