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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1998 Dec;85(6):2314-21.

Characteristics of the infant arousal response.

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Edward Mallinckrodt Department of Pediatrics/Newborn Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Arousal is considered to be an important response to a life-threatening stimulus. Recently, it has been shown that the infant arousal response to an elevated inspired CO2 level occurs as a sequence of events involving presumptive brain stem responses before awakening (A. Lijowska, N. Reed, B. Chiodini, and B. T. Thach. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med. 151: A151, 1995; A. S. Lijowska, N. W. Reed, B. A. Mertins Chiodini, and B. T. Thach. J. Appl. Physiol. 83: 219-228, 1997). We wanted to further evaluate the relationship of subcortical reflexes to cortical arousal in infants. We used a nonrespiratory (tactile) stimulus to elicit arousal in infants during non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) and rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. We found that a tactile stimulus elicited an arousal sequence that commenced with a spinal withdrawal reflex, was followed by brain stem responses (respiratory and startle responses), and ended in a cortical arousal. The entire pathway or part of it in the order of spinal to cortical responses could be elicited. REM and NREM responses were similar except for significant differences in the latencies of spinal and subcortical reflexes. These observations suggest that the infant arousal response to a tactile stimulus involves a progression of central nervous system activation from the spinal to cortical levels. The different components of the arousal pathway may be important for an infant to respond appropriately to stimuli during sleep without necessarily disturbing sleep.

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