The impact of inflammation on respiratory plasticity

Exp Neurol. 2017 Jan;287(Pt 2):243-253. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2016.07.022. Epub 2016 Jul 27.


Breathing is a vital homeostatic behavior and must be precisely regulated throughout life. Clinical conditions commonly associated with inflammation, undermine respiratory function may involve plasticity in respiratory control circuits to compensate and maintain adequate ventilation. Alternatively, other clinical conditions may evoke maladaptive plasticity. Yet, we have only recently begun to understand the effects of inflammation on respiratory plasticity. Here, we review some of common models used to investigate the effects of inflammation and discuss the impact of inflammation on nociception, chemosensory plasticity, medullary respiratory centers, motor plasticity in motor neurons and respiratory frequency, and adaptation to high altitude. We provide new data suggesting glial cells contribute to CNS inflammatory gene expression after 24h of sustained hypoxia and inflammation induced by 8h of intermittent hypoxia inhibits long-term facilitation of respiratory frequency. We also discuss how inflammation can have opposite effects on the capacity for plasticity, whereby it is necessary for increases in the hypoxic ventilatory response with sustained hypoxia, but inhibits phrenic long term facilitation after intermittent hypoxia. This review highlights gaps in our knowledge about the effects of inflammation on respiratory control (development, age, and sex differences). In summary, data to date suggest plasticity can be either adaptive or maladaptive and understanding how inflammation alters the respiratory system is crucial for development of better therapeutic interventions to promote breathing and for utilization of plasticity as a clinical treatment.

Keywords: Acclimatization; Hypoxia; Inflammation; Motor plasticity; Neuroplasticity; Respiratory plasticity; Sensory plasticity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Inflammation / complications*
  • Inflammation / pathology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Respiratory System / physiopathology*