How is breathing co-opted by and coordinated with other innate behaviors?

Breathing is such a fundamental, innate behavior. Yet, we also have the amazing capacity to immediately stop or alter it, like when we speak, cry, swallow, or hold our breath and even the type of breath we take can be regulated by our emotions, like a “sigh of relief”. To begin understanding how this occurs, we focused on determing how innate murine vocalizations, like neonatal cries, are harmonized with the breath.

Vocalizations are created by a stereotyped motor pattern and contain rhythmically timed elements, like syllables. This implies a ‘central pattern generator’ underlies vocal production. We have identified a novel brainstem vocalization CPG, called iRO, that coordinates the muscles for neonatal cry vocalizations (like the larynx) with breathing.The intrinsic rhythm of iRO times when rhythmic cry syllables occur within the breath.


Optogenetic stimulation of the iRO induces neonatal cry bouts

Wei et. al., 2022