Mind Your Breaths: Linking Anxiety and Respiratory Somatosensation

Project: National Science and Technology CouncilNational Science and Technology Council Academic Grants

Project Details


Different personalities or characteristics may modulate individuals’ mental states and also their physiological functions. Human’s respiratory perception or awareness is associated with their mental status and further dictate their subsequent behavioral responses. The fact that breathing is normally not sensed, but only sensed when the ventilation is obstructed or attended to, suggests that a “gate” exists between the autonamic respiratory oscillators and the higher cortical center. Respiratory perceptual gating as one indicator of respiratory awareness can be tested with the transient respiratory interruptions. This gating mechanism has been investigated by the respiratory-related evoked potential (RREP) method with scalp surface electrodes. Recent studies have showed that this frequency-based gating can be demonstrated with paired stimuli given within one inspiration. The second stimulus (S2) elicited smaller evoked potentials than the first stimulus (S1) in normal adults. The above evidence suggests the corresponding cortical areas of neuronal activation in response to paired inspiratory interruptions. Different psychological manipulations such as diseased state can modulate cognitive awareness of breathing. Past studies have demonstrated that attending to affective picture series changed respiratory sensory gating represented by the RREP peak amplitude S2/S1 ratio. Also, controlled attention was found to modulate the RREP P300 peak gating ratio. However, it remains unclear how attending to external emotional cues can modulate respiratory gating in people with different anxiety levels. It is also unclear how attention regulating strategies manipulate individuals’ respiratory sensory gating ability. The electrophysiological method provides excellent temporal evidence but little spatial information with regards to the cortical areas activated with respiratory sensory gating. Therefore, the purpose of this project is to systematically investigate the effect of spontaneous anxiety on respiratory sensation, test the effects of attending to external emotional cues, and examine the modulation of attention regulating strategy in respiratory sensory gating. First, we hypothesize that the paired stimulation paradigm and the oddball stimulation paradigm would result in different cortical activation patterns in the thalamus, somatosensory, and parietal cortex. Further, we expect that people with high and low anxiety would show different cortical activation patterns. Secondly, we will compare the effects of positive and neutral affect picture series on respiratory perception between high and low anxious individuals. We hypothesize that attending to positive and neutral affective picture series will lead to different activation in the corresponding cortical areas in processing respiratory information. Finally, we will test the effect of attention regulating strategies on respiratory sensory gating with both the fMRI technique and the RREP technique. We hypothesize that with the attention regulating strategy of focusing on the S1, the individual will show higher level of activation in the sensorimotor cortex and the parietal cortex. Our earlier electrophysiological data serves as preliminary results and suggests the feasibility of this proposed project. The significance of this work lies in the fact that psychological effects are fundamental to our understanding to respiratory perception. We expect the results of this project to serve as a basis for future respiratory perception studies in the mental health fields.

Project IDs

Project ID:PF10301-0111
External Project ID:MOST103-2420-H182-003-MY2
Effective start/end date01/01/1431/12/14


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