Study finds controlled breathing affects brain functions

Published On 08/16/2016

Slow, deep breathing positively influences cognition, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and the University of Memphis.

Results were published in the February 2014 edition of Nature Communications and in bioRxiv (049007) in 2016.

BREATHINGCOPY

“When you take a breath, a lot of things happen. You trigger your olfactory senses but you also stretch your lungs, you stretch your skin, your intestines slightly move,” said Primary Investigator Detlef Heck, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at UTHSC. “All these things trigger sensory inputs in the brain, and those are the things that cause the change of activity in the brain. All these sensations are linked to respiration.”

Researchers used mouse models and electrocorticography (ECoG) in humans to measure respiration’s influence of brain activity. Results showed that controlled respiration affects brain activity know to be involved in performance congnitive brain function.

Understanding the link between respiration and brain activity will be beneficial for patients with neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Heck said. 

“It has major implications because if our results are true, it means all the imaging experiments that doctors do should include measuring breathing,” he said. “If you ignore breathing you are ignoring a major source in your data. It will change fundamentally the way imaging studies are done.”

Heck performed these studies in close collaboration with James Wheless, MD, and Andrew Papanicolaou, PhD, co-directors of Le Bonheur’s Neuroscience Institute.