Breathing is essential and basic necessity of humans and other mammals, to life, to exist.
The breathing rhythm relies on an area of the brain stem known as the preBötzinger complex
** – a network of neurons exhibiting rhythmic bursts of activity that initiate inspiration.
The frequency of the rhythm varies in response to such challenges as exercise, sleep, or changes in altitude.
The preBötzinger complex also participates in detecting reduced concentration of oxygen in the blood, stimulating a gasping response in order to restore healthy oxygen levels.
This response is critical to humans diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, a disorder in which a sleeping individual’s breathing undergoes prolonged pauses broken by gasps or sighs.
The failure to gasp has been implicated in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
It has become clear that an understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying normal and distressed breathing would be invaluable in treating these and a host of other respiratory ailments.