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J Physiol. 2018 Sep;596(17):4043-4056. doi: 10.1113/JP276206. Epub 2018 Jul 6.

Breath-holding as a means to estimate the loop gain contribution to obstructive sleep apnoea.

Author information

Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Departments of Medicine and Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
Respiratory Medicine and Sleep Laboratory, Department of Experimental and Clinical Sciences, University of Brescia and Spedali Civili, Brescia, Italy.
Pulmonary Division, Heart Institute (InCor), Hospital das Clínicas, University of São Paulo School of Medicine, São Paulo, Brazil.
Department of Allergy, Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, and Central Clinical School, The Alfred and Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.



A hypersensitive ventilatory control system or elevated "loop gain" during sleep is a primary phenotypic trait causing obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). Despite the multitude of methods available to assess the anatomical contributions to OSA during wakefulness in the clinical setting (e.g. neck circumference, pharyngometry, Mallampati score), it is currently not possible to recognize elevated loop gain in patients in this context. Loop gain during sleep can now be recognized using simplified testing during wakefulness, specifically in the form of a reduced maximal breath-hold duration, or a larger ventilatory response to voluntary 20-second breath-holds. We consider that easy breath-holding manoeuvres will enable daytime recognition of a high loop gain in OSA for more personalized intervention.


Increased "loop gain" of the ventilatory control system promotes obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in some patients and offers an avenue for more personalized treatment, yet diagnostic tools for directly measuring loop gain in the clinical setting are lacking. Here we test the hypothesis that elevated loop gain during sleep can be recognized using voluntary breath-hold manoeuvres during wakefulness. Twenty individuals (10 OSA, 10 controls) participated in a single overnight study with voluntary breath-holding manoeuvres performed during wakefulness. We assessed (1) maximal breath-hold duration, and (2) the ventilatory response to 20 s breath-holds. For comparison, gold standard loop gain values were obtained during non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep using the ventilatory response to 20 s pulses of hypoxic-hypercapnic gas (6% CO2 -14% O2 , mimicking apnoea). Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) was used to maintain airway patency during sleep. Additional measurements included gold standard loop gain measurement during wakefulness and steady-state loop gain measurement during sleep using CPAP dial-ups. Higher loop gain during sleep was associated with (1) a shorter maximal breath-hold duration (r2  = 0.49, P < 0.001), and (2) a larger ventilatory response to 20 s breath-holds during wakefulness (second breath; r2  = 0.50, P < 0.001); together these factors combine to predict high loop gain (receiver operating characteristic area-under-curve: 92%). Gold standard loop gain values were remarkably similar during wake and non-REM sleep. The results show that elevated loop gain during sleep can be identified using simple breath-holding manoeuvres performed during wakefulness. This may have implications for personalizing OSA treatment.


OSA alternative treatments; OSA phenotyping; chemoreflex predictors

[Available on 2019-09-01]

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