Possible mechanisms of periodic breathing during sleep

J Appl Physiol (1985). 1988 Mar;64(3):1000-8. doi: 10.1152/jappl.1988.64.3.1000.


To determine the effect of respiratory control system loop gain on periodic breathing during sleep, 10 volunteers were studied during stage 1-2 non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep while breathing room air (room air control), while hypoxic (hypoxia control), and while wearing a tight-fitting mask that augmented control system gain by mechanically increasing the effect of ventilation on arterial O2 saturation (SaO2) (hypoxia increased gain). Ventilatory responses to progressive hypoxia at two steady-state end-tidal PCO2 levels and to progressive hypercapnia at two levels of oxygenation were measured during wakefulness as indexes of controller gain. Under increased gain conditions, five male subjects developed periodic breathing with recurrent cycles of hyperventilation and apnea; the remaining subjects had nonperiodic patterns of hyperventilation. Periodic breathers had greater ventilatory response slopes to hypercapnia under either hyperoxic or hypoxic conditions than nonperiodic breathers (2.98 +/- 0.72 vs. 1.50 +/- 0.39 l.min-1.Torr-1; 4.39 +/- 2.05 vs. 1.72 +/- 0.86 l.min-1.Torr-1; for both, P less than 0.04) and greater ventilatory responsiveness to hypoxia at a PCO2 of 46.5 Torr (2.07 +/- 0.91 vs. 0.87 +/- 0.38 l.min-1.% fall in SaO2(-1); P less than 0.04). To assess whether spontaneous oscillations in ventilation contributed to periodic breathing, power spectrum analysis was used to detect significant cyclic patterns in ventilation during NREM sleep. Oscillations occurred more frequently in periodic breathers, and hypercapnic responses were higher in subjects with oscillations than those without. The results suggest that spontaneous oscillations in ventilation are common during sleep and can be converted to periodic breathing with apnea when loop gain is increased.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Apnea / physiopathology
  • Blood Gas Analysis
  • Cheyne-Stokes Respiration / physiopathology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / physiopathology*
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Respiration*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Wakefulness / physiology*


  • Oxygen