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B4 - Physiology and pathology of adaptive respiratory behaviors

Mathias Dutschmann and Michael Müller

Breathing of mammals has to be permanently adapted to changes in behaviour and environment. Adaptation of the breathing pattern is evoked by high altitude, hypoxia, exercise or during protective reflexes of the upper airways. The adaptive behavior of the respiratory activity to afferent synaptic input involves neuromodulator induced synaptic short and long term plasticity. Neuromodulators (e.g serotonin, noradrenalin, actylcholin, neuropeptides) acting in the respiratory network play a key role since they control the excitability and synaptic efficiency of respiratory neurons. A disturbance of these mechanisms may cause instabilities of the breathing pattern leading to lethal apnoeas (see Manzke et al. 2003). Of clinical importance is the investigation of plasticity phenomena of protective upper airway reflexes (e.g laryngeal, nasotrigeminal evoked apnoeas (Dutschmann & Paton 2002a), which are potentially involved in the development of sleep apnoeas or the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, see Dutschmann & Herbert 1999). Sensitization or desensitization of synaptic activity in reflex circuits during repetitive activation can initiate pathophysiological states. The reflex evoked arrest of breathing is leading to transient hypoxia, which may have further impact on the synaptic plasticity finally leading to a destabilization of network function. However, synaptic plasticity can occur at different levels of the network: In the primary central pattern generator, sensory relay structure or on motoneurones. Therefore, experimental data and model predictions are required to precisely identify potential targets for specific treatments of respiratory malfunctions.

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