Differences in breathing pattern between awake C57BL/6J (B6) and A/J mice are such that A/J mice breathe slower, deeper, and with greater variability than B6. We theorized that urethane anesthesia, by affecting cortical and subcortical function, would test the hypothesis that strain differences require a fully functional neuroaxis. We anesthetized B6 and A/J mice with urethane, placed them in a whole-body plethysmograph, and measured the durations of inspiration and expiration, respiratory frequency (Fr), and peak amplitude during exposure to room air (21% O2), hyperoxia (5 min, 100% O2), hypoxia (5 min, 8% O2), and posthypoxic reoxygenation (5 min, 100% O2). Breathing variability was assessed by calculating the coefficient of variation (CV) and by applying spatial statistics to Poincaré plots constructed from the timing and amplitude data. Even though Fr in anesthetized B6 and A/J mice was greater than that for unanesthetized animals, anesthetized A/J mice still breathed slower, deeper, and with greater variability than B6 mice at rest and during hyperoxia. During the fourth minute of hypoxia, Fr and its CV were not significantly different between strains. Even though Fr was similar between strains immediately after hypoxia, its CV was significantly greater for B6 than A/J mice. Posthypoxic Fr was significantly less than baseline Fr in B6 but not A/J mice, and the CV for posthypoxic Fr was greater for B6 but less for AJ mice compared with baseline CV. This difference in patterning was confirmed by spatial statistical analysis. We conclude that strain-specific differences in respiratory pattern and its variability are robust genetic traits. The neural substrate for these differences, at least partially, exists within subcortical structures generating the breathing pattern.
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