Mapping the brain’s response to breathlessness

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Could eventually aid management of conditions such as asthma

In an experiment, healthy men were placed on ventilators, and their ability to take deep breaths was controlled. As their breathing was regulated, their brains were imaged using a PET camera. The images were then compared to scans taken prior to the experiment to see which areas, if any, were turned on when the body perceived it was not getting enough air. Through this study, Harvard School of Public Health researchers and colleagues from the Imperial College School of Medicine in London were able to identify the area of the brain that is activated during shortness of breath. “This kind of basic science underlies the understanding one needs to use breathlessness as a tool of diagnosis,” said Robert Banzett, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and lead author of the study.