Chemoreception and neuroplasticity in respiratory circuits

William H. Barnett, Ana P. Abdala, Julian F.R. Paton, Ilya A. Rybak, Daniel B. Zoccal, Yaroslav I. Molkov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)
314 Downloads (Pure)


The respiratory central pattern generator must respond to chemosensory cues to maintain oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) homeostasis in the blood and tissues. To do this, sensorial cells located in the periphery and central nervous system monitor the arterial partial pressure of O2 and CO2 and initiate respiratory and autonomic reflex adjustments in conditions of hypoxia and hypercapnia. In conditions of chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH), repeated peripheral chemoreceptor input mediated by the nucleus of the solitary tract induces plastic changes in respiratory circuits that alter baseline respiratory and sympathetic motor outputs and result in chemoreflex sensitization, active expiration, and arterial hypertension. Herein, we explored the hypothesis that the CIH-induced neuroplasticity primarily consists of increased excitability of pre-inspiratory/inspiratory neurons in the pre-Bötzinger complex. To evaluate this hypothesis and elucidate neural mechanisms for the emergence of active expiration and sympathetic overactivity in CIH-treated animals, we extended a previously developed computational model of the brainstem respiratory-sympathetic network to reproduce experimental data on peripheral and central chemoreflexes post-CIH. The model incorporated neuronal connections between the 2nd-order NTS neurons and peripheral chemoreceptors afferents, the respiratory pattern generator, and sympathetic neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla in order to capture key features of sympathetic and respiratory responses to peripheral chemoreflex stimulation. Our model identifies the potential neuronal groups recruited during peripheral chemoreflex stimulation that may be required for the development of inspiratory, expiratory and sympathetic reflex responses. Moreover, our model predicts that pre-inspiratory neurons in the pre-Bötzinger complex experience plasticity of channel expression due to excessive excitation during peripheral chemoreflex. Simulations also show that, due to positive interactions between pre-inspiratory neurons in the pre-Bötzinger complex and expiratory neurons in the retrotrapezoid nucleus, increased excitability of the former may lead to the emergence of the active expiratory pattern at normal CO2 levels found after CIH exposure. We conclude that neuronal type specific neuroplasticity in the pre-Bötzinger complex induced by repetitive episodes of peripheral chemoreceptor activation by hypoxia may contribute to the development of sympathetic over-activity and hypertension.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-164
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Neurology
Volume287 Part 2
Early online date27 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017


  • Respiration
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Hypertension
  • Chronic intermittent hypoxia
  • Peripheral chemoreception
  • Plasticity


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