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Prog Brain Res. 2011;188:31-50. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53825-3.00008-5.

Chapter 3--networks within networks: the neuronal control of breathing.

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Center for Integrative Brain Research, Seattle Children's Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Breathing emerges through complex network interactions involving neurons distributed throughout the nervous system. The respiratory rhythm generating network is composed of micro networks functioning within larger networks to generate distinct rhythms and patterns that characterize breathing. The pre-Bötzinger complex, a rhythm generating network located within the ventrolateral medulla assumes a core function without which respiratory rhythm generation and breathing cease altogether. It contains subnetworks with distinct synaptic and intrinsic membrane properties that give rise to different types of respiratory rhythmic activities including eupneic, sigh, and gasping activities. While critical aspects of these rhythmic activities are preserved when isolated in in vitro preparations, the pre-Bötzinger complex functions in the behaving animal as part of a larger network that receives important inputs from areas such as the pons and parafacial nucleus. The respiratory network is also an integrator of modulatory and sensory inputs that imbue the network with the important ability to adapt to changes in the behavioral, metabolic, and developmental conditions of the organism. This review summarizes our current understanding of these interactions and relates the emerging concepts to insights gained in other rhythm generating networks.

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