Respiratory network plasticity is a modification in respiratory control that persists longer than the stimuli that evoke it or that changes the behavior produced by the network. Different durations and patterns of hypoxia can induce different types of respiratory memories. Lateral pontine neurons are required for decreases in respiratory frequency that follow brief hypoxia. Changes in synchrony and firing rates of ventrolateral and midline medullary neurons may contribute to the long-term facilitation of breathing after brief intermittent hypoxia. Long-term changes in central respiratory motor control may occur after spinal cord injury, and the brain stem network implicated in the production of the respiratory rhythm could be reconfigured to produce the cough motor pattern. Preliminary analysis suggests that elements of brain stem respiratory neural networks respond differently to hypoxia and hypercapnia and interact with areas involved in cardiovascular control. Plasticity or alterations in these networks may contribute to the chronic upregulation of sympathetic nerve activity and hypertension in sleep apnea syndrome and may also be involved in sudden infant death syndrome.
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