Respiratory regulation & interactions with neuro-cognitive circuitry

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020 May;112:95-106. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.02.001. Epub 2020 Feb 3.


It is increasingly being recognized that active control of breathing - a key aspect of ancient Vedic meditative practices, can relieve stress and anxiety and improve cognition. However, the underlying mechanisms of respiratory modulation of neurophysiology are just beginning to be elucidated. Research shows that brainstem circuits involved in the motor control of respiration receive input from and can directly modulate activity in subcortical circuits, affecting emotion and arousal. Meanwhile, brain regions involved in the sensory aspects of respiration, such as the olfactory bulb, are like-wise linked with wide-spread brain oscillations; and perturbing olfactory bulb activity can significantly affect both mood and cognition. Thus, via both motor and sensory pathways, there are clear mechanisms by which brain activity is entrained to the respiratory cycle. Here, we review evidence gathered across multiple species demonstrating the links between respiration, entrainment of brain activity and functional relevance for affecting mood and cognition. We also discuss further linkages with cardiac rhythms, and the potential translational implications for biorhythm monitoring and regulation in neuropsychiatric disorders.

Keywords: Brainstem; Cardiac rhythm; Meditation; Olfactory bulb; Respiration; Top-down control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Olfactory Bulb / physiology*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena*