Monday, March 21, 2022

Mellow Mice - Why deep breathing can keep us calm

How we are breathing is usally a good indicator of whether we are calm or aroused. When we become anxious or aroused, usually the best thing we can do is stop and take a deep breath. Gretchen Reynolds points to interesting work in mice that suggests that taking deep breaths is calming because it does not activate neurons in the brain's breathing center that communicate with the brain's arousal center (breathing pacemakers in humans closely resemble those in mice). Here is the abstract from Yackle et al.:
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 of about 350 neurons 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.

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