Psychophysiologic reactivity in asthmatic children: a cholinergically mediated confluence of pathways

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 1994 Nov-Dec;33(9):1236-45. doi: 10.1097/00004583-199411000-00004.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the suitability of a newly developed experimental paradigm, designed to assess relationships among emotional responsivity, physiologic (autonomic) reactivity, airway reactivity, and pulmonary function in asthmatic children under controlled conditions of ecologically valid emotional stimulation.

Method: Twenty-four children, aged 8 through 17, with moderate to severe asthma viewed the movie, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, while having their heart and respiration rate and oxygen saturation continuously measured and recorded. Airway reactivity was assessed by the methacholine challenge test, and pre- and postmovie pulmonary function by spirometry. Self-report of emotion was recorded for targeted scenes.

Results: Findings indicated that emotional responsivity and physiologic reactivity to the movie were associated with increased airway reactivity and with decreased pulmonary function.

Conclusions: The pattern of results suggests cholinergically mediated psychophysiologic pathways of emotional influence in the asthmatic process for some asthmatic children. A heuristic biopsychosocial model of these pathways is presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Asthma / psychology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Child
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Respiration / physiology


  • Acetylcholine
  • Oxygen