Indexed on: 19 Dec '08Published on: 19 Dec '08Published in: American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology
Augmented breaths promote respiratory instability and have been implicated in triggering periods of sleep-disordered breathing. Since respiratory instability is well known to be exacerbated by hypocapnia, we asked whether one of the destabilizing effects of hypocapnia might be related to an increased prevalence of augmented breaths. With this question in mind, we first sought to determine whether hypoxia-induced augmented breaths are more prevalent when hypocapnia is also present. To do this, we studied the breath-by-breath ventilatory responses of a group of freely behaving adult rats in a variety of different respiratory background conditions. We found that the prevalence of augmented breaths was dramatically increased during hypocapnic-hypoxia compared with room air conditions. When hypocapnia was prevented during exposure to hypoxia by adding 5% CO2 to the inspired air, the rate of occurrence of augmented breaths was no greater than that observed in room air. The addition of CO2 alone to room air had no effect on the prevalence of augmented breaths. We conclude that in spontaneously breathing rats, hypoxia promotes the generation of augmented breaths, but only in poikilocapnic conditions, where hypocapnia develops. Our results, therefore, reveal a means by which CO2 exerts a stabilizing influence on breathing, which may be of particular relevance during sleep in conditions commonly associated with respiratory instability.