Breathing is one of the perpetual rhythms of life that is often taken for granted, its apparent simplicity belying the complex neural machinery involved. This behavior is more complicated than just producing inspiration, as breathing is integrated with many other motor functions such as vocalization, orofacial motor behaviors, emotional expression (laughing and crying), and locomotion. In addition, cognition can strongly influence breathing. Conscious breathing during yoga, meditation, or psychotherapy can modulate emotion, arousal state, or stress. Therefore, understanding the links between breathing behavior, brain arousal state, and higher-order brain activity is of great interest...Yackle et al. identify an apparently specialized, molecularly identifiable, small subset of ∼350 neurons in the mouse brain that forms a circuit for transmitting information about respiratory activity to other central nervous system neurons, specifically with a group of noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus (LC) in the brainstem, that influences arousal state. This finding provides new insight into how the motor act of breathing can influence higher-order brain functions.The Yackle et al. abstract:
Slow, controlled breathing has been used for centuries to promote mental calming, and it is used clinically to suppress excessive arousal such as panic attacks. However, the physiological and neural basis of the relationship between breathing and higher-order brain activity is unknown. We found a neuronal subpopulation in the mouse preBötzinger complex (preBötC), the primary breathing rhythm generator, which regulates the balance between calm and arousal behaviors. Conditional, bilateral genetic ablation of the ~175 Cdh9/Dbx1 double-positive preBötC neurons in adult mice left breathing intact but increased calm behaviors and decreased time in aroused states. These neurons project to, synapse on, and positively regulate noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus, a brain center implicated in attention, arousal, and panic that projects throughout the brain.