Periaqueductal Gray Control of Breathing

Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 669)


Change of the basic respiratory rhythm (eupnea) is a pre-requisite for survival. For example, sudden escape from danger needs rapid shallow breathing, strenuous exercise requires tachypnea for sufficient supply of oxygen and a strong anxiety reaction necessitates gasping. Also for vocalization (and for speech in humans) an important mechanism for survival, respiration has to be changed. The caudal brainstem premotor respiratory centers need input from higher brain centers in order to change respiration according to the surrounding circumstances. One of the most important of such a higher brain centers is the midbrain periaqueductal gray (PAG). The PAG co-ordinates motor output, including respiratory changes based on input from limbic, prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex regions. These areas integrate visual, auditory and somatosensory information in the context of basic survival mechanisms and relay the result to the PAG, which has access to respiratory control centers in the caudal brainstem. Through these pathways the PAG can change eupneic respiratory rhythm into the behavior necessary for that specific situation. We present data obtained from the cat and propose a functional framework for the breathing control pathways.


Respiratory Rhythm Survival Behavior High Brain Center Caudal Brainstem Solitary Nucleus 


  1. Behbehani, M. (1995) Functional characteristics of the midbrain periaqueductal gray. Prog. Neurobiol. 46, 575–605.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Hayward L,F., Castellanos, M., and Davenport, P. (2004) Parabrachial neurons mediate dorsal periaqueductal gray evoked respiratory responses in the rat. J. Appl. Physiol. 96, 1146–1154.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Hayward, L.F., Swartz, C.L., and Davenport, P.W. (2003) Respiratory response to activation or disinhibition of the dorsal periaqueductal gray in rats. J. Appl. Physiol. 94, 913–922.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Holstege, G. (1991) Descending pathways from the periaqueductal gray and adjacent areas. In A. Depaulis and R. Bandler (Eds.), The midbrain periaqueductal gray matter: Functional anatomical and immunohistochemical organization (pp. 239–265). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  5. Holstege, G. (1992) The emotional motor system. Eur. J. Morph. 30, 67–81.Google Scholar
  6. Huang, Z.G., Subramanian, H.H., Balnave, R.J., Turman, A.B., and Chow, C.M. (2000) Roles of periaqueductal gray and nucleus tractus solitarius in cardiorespiratory function in the rat brainstem. Resp. Physiol. Neurobiol. 120, 185–195.Google Scholar
  7. Subramanian, H.H., Balnave, R.J., and Holstege, G. (2008) The midbrain periaqueductal gray control of respiration. J. Neurosci. 28, 12274–12283.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Subramanian, H.H., Chow, C.M., and Balnave, R.J. (2007) Identification of different types of respiratory neurones in the dorsal brainstem nucleus tractus solitarius of the rat. Brain Res. 1141, 119–132.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Subramanian, H.H. and Holstege, G (2009) The nucleus retroambiguus control of respiration. J. Neurosci. 29, 3824–3832.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Zhang, W., Hayward, L.F., and Davenport, P.W. (2005). Respiratory muscle responses elicited by dorsal periaqueductal gray stimulation in rats. Am. J. Physiol. Regul. Integr. Comp. Physiol. 289(5), R1338–R1347.PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Groningen, UMCG, Center for UroneurologyGroningenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations