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Breath and Heartbeat

Brain region involved in synching the respiratory and cardiovascular systems

07 August 2020

Breath and Heartbeat

Taking slow deep breaths can reduce heart rate, dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure. How are the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, two seemingly separate networks of organs and other structures, intertwined in this way? The rhythmic waves of activity that underpin breathing, heart rate and blood pressure are similar in that they are controlled by networks of neurons in the brain. However, these networks don’t operate independently. Neuroscientists have recently demonstrated how the pre-Bötzinger complex, a cluster of respiratory neurons in the brainstem (identified here in green/yellow on both sides of a rat brain), directly controls the activity patterns of neurons that modulate heart rate and blood pressure. In this way, the pre-Bötzinger complex can entrain, or sync, the cardiovascular system to respiration patterns. In future, therapeutics that target specific neurons within this complex may help prevent the development of cardiovascular conditions like hypertension.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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