Swallowing and breathing utilize common muscles and an anatomical passage: the pharynx. The risk of aspiration of ingested material is minimized not only by the laryngeal adduction of the vocal folds and laryngeal elevation but also by the precise coordination of swallows with breathing. Namely, swallows: (1) are preferentially initiated in the postinspiratory/expiratory phase, (2) are accompanied by a brief apnea, and (3) are often followed by an expiration and delay of the next breath. This review summarizes the expiratory evidence on the brainstem regions comprising the central pattern generator (CPG) that produces the pharyngeal stage of swallow, how the motor acts of swallowing and breathing are coordinated, and lastly, brainstem regions where the swallowing and respiratory CPGs may interact in order to ensure "safe" swallows.
Keywords: aspiration; brainstem; breathing; central pattern generator; deglutition; feeding.
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