Brain activity has been shown to be influenced by respiratory behavior. Here, we evaluated whether respiration-induced hypo- or hypercapnia may support differentiation between physiological versus pathological respiratory behavior. In particular, we investigated whether systemic physiological measures could predict the brain's time-frequency hemodynamics after three respiratory challenges (i.e., breath-holding, rebreathing, and hyperventilation) compared to resting-state. Prefrontal hemodynamics were assessed in healthy subjects (N = 27) using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Systemic physiological measures were assessed in form of heart rate, partial end-tidal carbon dioxide, respiration rate, and saturation of peripheral oxygen. Time-frequency dynamics were quantified using the wavelet transform coherence (i.e., defined here as cortical-systemic coherence). We found that the three respiratory challenges modulated cortical-systemic coherence differently: (1) After rebreathing, cortical-systemic coherence could be predicted from the amplitude of the heart rate (strong negative correlation). (2) After breath-holding, the same observation was made (moderate negative correlation). (3) After hyperventilation, no significant effect was observed. (4) These effects were found only in the frequency range of very low-frequency oscillations. The presented findings highlight a distinct role of rebreathing in predicting cortical-systemic coupling based on heart rate changes, which may represents a measure of affective states in the brain. The applied multimodal assessment of hemodynamic and systemic physiological measures during respiratory challenges may therefore have potential applications in the differentiation between physiological and pathological respiratory behavior.
Keywords: Cortical-systemic coherence; Functional near-infrared spectroscopy; Heart rate; Partial pressure of carbon dioxide; Respiratory challenge; Time-frequency dynamics.