Periodic breathing in healthy humans at exercise in hypoxia

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2015 Jan 1;118(1):115-23. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00832.2014. Epub 2014 Nov 13.


Periodic breathing is frequent in heart failure or ventilatory disorders during sleep, and common during sleep at high altitude, but has been rarely studied in wakefulness and during exercise. A retrospective analysis of ventilation from hypoxia exercise tests was realized in 82 healthy subjects separated into two groups with either high or low ventilatory response to hypoxia at exercise (HVRe). A fast Fourier transform spectral analysis of the breath-by-breath ventilation (V̇e) signal, O2 saturation, and end-tidal PCO2 evidenced a periodic pattern with a period of 11.1 to 12.0 s. The peak power of the V̇e spectrum was higher in the high HVRe group (P < 0.001). A prospective study (25 subjects) was performed to evaluate the influence of cardiorespiratory factors on the amplitude and period of oscillations in various conditions of exercise (20 to 40% maximal aerobic power) and hypoxia (0 to 4,000 m altitude). The period of V̇e was shorter at exercise (vs. rest, P < 0.001) and hypoxia (vs. normoxia, P < 0.001), and inversely related with cardiac output and V̇e (P < 0.001). V̇e peak power was higher at exercise (P < 0.001) and hypoxia (P < 0.001), and was positively related with cardiac output and V̇e (P < 0.001). V̇e peak power in hypoxia was positively related with the ventilatory response to CO2 (HCVR). This novel observation suggests that healthy subjects demonstrate a spontaneous periodic breathing, not clearly observable at rest and in normoxia, but triggered by hypoxic exercise. The periodic pattern is enhanced in subjects with high HVRe and high HCVR, suggesting that oxygen and CO2 play synergistic roles in the modulation of these oscillations.

Keywords: control of ventilation; exercise; hypercapnic ventilatory response; hypoxia; hypoxic ventilatory response; periodic breathing.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiac Output / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiration*
  • Respiratory Rate / physiology*
  • Retrospective Studies