Neuroimaging evidence implicating cerebellum in the experience of hypercapnia and hunger for air

Lawrence M. Parsons, Gary Egan, Mario Liotti, Stephen Brannan, Derek Denton, Robert Shade, Rachael Robillard, Lisa Madden, Bart Abplanalp, Peter T. Fox

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Recent neuroimaging and neurological data implicate cerebellum in nonmotor sensory, cognitive, vegetative, and affective functions. The present study assessed cerebellar responses when the urge to breathe is stimulated by inhaled CO2. Ventilation changes follow arterial blood partial pressure CO2 changes sensed by the medullary ventral respiratory group (VRG) and hypothalamus, entraining changes in midbrain, pons, thalamus, limbic, paralimbic, and insular regions. Nearly all these areas are known to connect anatomically with the cerebellum. Using positron emission tomography, we measured regional brain blood flow during acute CO2-induced breathlessness in humans. Separable physiological and subjective effects (air hunger) were assessed by comparisons with various respiratory control conditions. The conjoint physiological effects of hypercapnia and the consequent air hunger produced strong bilateral, near-midline activations of the cerebellum in anterior quadrangular, central, and lingula lobules, and in many areas of posterior quadrangular, tonsil, biventer, declive, and inferior semilunar lobules. The primal emotion of air hunger, dissociated from hypercapnia, activated midline regions of the central lobule. The distributed activity across the cerebellum is similar to that for thirst, hunger, and their satiation. Four possible interpretations of cerebellar function(s) here are that: it subserves implicit intentions to access air; it provides predictive internal models about the consequences of CO2 inhalation; it modulates emotional responses; and that while some cerebellar regions monitor sensory acquisition in the VRG (CO2 concentration), others influence VRG to adjust respiratory rate to optimize partial pressure CO2, and others still monitor and optimize the acquisition of other sensory data in service of air hunger aroused vigilance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2041-2046
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 13 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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