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Front Physiol. 2012 Jan 4;2:111. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2011.00111. eCollection 2011.

Modeling the autonomic and metabolic effects of obstructive sleep apnea: a simulation study.

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  • 1Biomedical Engineering Department, University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA, USA.


Long-term exposure to intermittent hypoxia and sleep fragmentation introduced by recurring obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has been linked to subsequent cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. The underlying mechanisms remain unclear, but impairment of the normal interactions among the systems that regulate autonomic and metabolic function is likely involved. We have extended an existing integrative model of respiratory, cardiovascular, and sleep-wake state control, to incorporate a sub-model of glucose-insulin-fatty acid regulation. This computational model is capable of simulating the complex dynamics of cardiorespiratory control, chemoreflex and state-related control of breath-to-breath ventilation, state-related and chemoreflex control of upper airway potency, respiratory and circulatory mechanics, as well as the metabolic control of glucose-insulin dynamics and its interactions with the autonomic control. The interactions between autonomic and metabolic control include the circadian regulation of epinephrine secretion, epinephrine regulation on dynamic fluctuations in glucose and free-fatty acid in plasma, metabolic coupling among tissues and organs provided by insulin and epinephrine, as well as the effect of insulin on peripheral vascular sympathetic activity. These model simulations provide insight into the relative importance of the various mechanisms that determine the acute and chronic physiological effects of sleep-disordered breathing. The model can also be used to investigate the effects of a variety of interventions, such as different glucose clamps, the intravenous glucose tolerance test, and the application of continuous positive airway pressure on OSA subjects. As such, this model provides the foundation on which future efforts to simulate disease progression and the long-term effects of pharmacological intervention can be based.


autonomic–metabolic interactions; computational modeling; integrative modeling; metabolic function; metabolism; obstructive sleep apnea; physiological model simulation; sleep regulation

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