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Front. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00663

Slower is higher: threshold modulation of cortical activity in voluntary control of breathing initiation

  • 1Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France
  • 2Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), France
  • 3Hôpitaux Universitaires Pitié Salpêtrière, France

Speech or programmed sentences must often be interrupted in order to listen to and interact with interlocutors. Among many processes that produce such complex acts, the brain must precisely adjust breathing to produce adequate phonation. The mechanism of these adjustments is multifactorial and still poorly understood. In order to selectively examine the adjustment in breath control, we recorded respiratory-related premotor cortical potentials from the scalp of human subjects while they performed a single breathing initiation or inhibition task. We found that voluntary breathing is initiated if, and only if, the cortical premotor potential activity reaches a threshold activation level. The stochastic variability in the threshold correlates to the distribution of initiation times of breathing. The data also fitted a computerized interactive race model. Modeling results confirm that this model is also as effective in respiratory modality, as it has been found to be for eye and hand movements. No modifications were required to account for respiratory cycle inhibition processes. In this overly simplified task, we showed a link between voluntary initiation and control of breathing and activity in a fronto-median region of the cerebral cortex. These results shed light on some of the physiological constraints involved in the complex mechanisms of respiration, phonation, and language.

Keywords: motor control, countermanding task, breathing, Decision Making, Inhibition (Psychology)

Received: 12 Mar 2018; Accepted: 04 Sep 2018.

Edited by:

Arpan Banerjee, National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), India

Reviewed by:

Leszek Kubin, University of Pennsylvania, United States
Thiago S. Moreira, Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil  

Copyright: © 2018 Pouget, Allard, Poitou, Raux, Wattiez and Similowski. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Pierre Pouget, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France,