How breathing is linked to sensations such as pain and emotional processing
When you stub your toe, you take a quick breath. More severe injury leads to more intense panting. This intrinsic link between breathing and pain or anxiety is not well understood. Now a study has revealed an interconnected network of neurons in the brain that explains the relationship. Researchers examined a region of the brainstem (pictured) and found some neurons (red) projecting to the amygdala, where fear and pain are processed, and others (green) reaching into the pre-Bötzinger complex, which orchestrates breathing rhythm. Experiments showed that stimulating cells in one region had impacts in the other. This provides a possible explanation for opioid-induced respiratory depression (OIRD) – the condition that causes many opioid overdose deaths as a result of pain relief also reducing breathing. This could lead to new approaches to pain reduction without risking OIRD, improve our understanding of anxiety, and help everyone breathe a little easier.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.