This chapter describes how the central nervous system (CNS) coordinates respiration and the circulation to achieve pO2 and pCO2 homeostasis and optimal tissue oxygenation. The process occurs at multiple levels of the neuraxis and produces a pattern of respiratory, cardiovagal and sympathetic outflows that is optimized for any given behaviour (rest, exercise, sleep, emotions) or physiological environment (hypoxia, altitude, heat, or cold). Within the pontomedullary region, cardiorespiratory integration consists of bi-directional influences between a network that regulates breathing primarily and neurons that predominantly control cardiovascular function. These networks have overlapping but distinct roles since, for example, blood pressure must be stabilized regardless of the breathing requirements. These two interactive networks are differentially regulated by inputs from sensory afferents (somatic and visceral reflexes) and by CNS neurons located in the midbrain and more rostrally (central command).
Keywords: rostral ventrolateral medulla, caudal ventrolateral medulla, chemoreceptors, cardiorespiratory coupling, cardiopulmonary afferents, sinus arrhythmia, sympathetic rhythms, baroreflex, hypoxia, diving reflex, exercise, central command
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