Effects of abnormal breathing

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Dr Anna Hudson

A person takes over 15,000 breaths in 24 hours and every time you breathe your brain sends signals to multiple respiratory muscles via your spinal cord to expand your chest and abdomen.

In healthy people, this process is automatic but, for some, breathing requires voluntary input from a different region of the brain called the motor cortex that controls all voluntary movements we make.

I’m currently studying the neural control of respiratory muscles in health and disease – investigating if there is atypical brain activation during breathing in respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive disease and asthma.

Electroencephalography, or recording of brain activity over the scalp, is being used to detect when there is abnormal activation of the motor cortex during breathing.

Using this technique, I have shown that the motor cortex is required to maintain normal ventilation in patients with central hypoventilation syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects breathing control. Usually, the motor cortex is not activated in normal ventilation.

I’m also investigating how atypical activation of this brain region in respiratory disease is related to breathlessness, an intense and frightening sensation and sleep disturbance, with the goal of improving the disease outcome.

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