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A Bridge between the Breath and the Brain: Synchronization of Respiration, a Pupillometric Marker of the Locus Coeruleus, and an EEG Marker of Attentional Control State

  • christopher, michael
Publication Date
Oct 06, 2021
DOI: 10.3390/brainsci11101324
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Yogic and meditative traditions have long held that the fluctuations of the breath and the mind are intimately related. While respiratory modulation of cortical activity and attentional switching are established, the extent to which electrophysiological markers of attention exhibit synchronization with respiration is unknown. To this end, we examined (1) frontal midline theta-beta ratio (TBR), an indicator of attentional control state known to correlate with mind wandering episodes and functional connectivity of the executive control network; (2) pupil diameter (PD), a known proxy measure of locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic activity; and (3) respiration for evidence of phase synchronization and information transfer (multivariate Granger causality) during quiet restful breathing. Our results indicate that both TBR and PD are simultaneously synchronized with the breath, suggesting an underlying oscillation of an attentionally relevant electrophysiological index that is phase-locked to the respiratory cycle which could have the potential to bias the attentional system into switching states. We highlight the LC’s pivotal role as a coupling mechanism between respiration and TBR, and elaborate on its dual functions as both a chemosensitive respiratory nucleus and a pacemaker of the attentional system. We further suggest that an appreciation of the dynamics of this weakly coupled oscillatory system could help deepen our understanding of the traditional claim of a relationship between breathing and attention.

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