Breathing is perhaps the most vital physiological function, and it is occurring mainly unconsciously. Yet, despite the deceptive simplicity of breathing, it is an intricate behaviour influence by conscious top-down control and vigilance state. How consciousness shape breathing? What are the neural mechanisms underlying conscious control of breathing? Can breathing dynamics indicate on conscious awareness? We aim to address these questions by employing basic and clinical neuroscience approaches in combination with electrophysiology, neuroimaging and advanced computational tools. Disorders of consciousness (DOC) including vegetative state (VS)/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS) and minimally conscious state (MCS) offer a unique model to investigate the relationship between consciousness and breathing, by providing a rare opportunity for cross-sectional and longitudinal tracking of breathing dynamics during recovery of consciousness. In the proposed research, we first aim to characterize the interaction between breathing and consciousness state. To do this we will record continues respiration during 24-hour from healthy individuals and DOC patients. Next, we intend to elucidate the neural mechanism underlying conscious regulation of breathing, by recording electroencephalogram (EEG) and functional resonance magnetic imaging (fMRI) activity during a multimodal (olfaction, audition and vision) paradigm designed to consciously and unconsciously trigger respiratory change. Last, we plan to investigate whether breathing dynamics can be used as a diagnostic and potentially prognostic tool to detect awareness in DOC patients, by developing an automated respiratory-based classifier differentiating between UWS and MCS patients. The significance of this study is two-fold; addressing fundamental questions in breathing regulation, and utilizing the interplay between basic physiological function and consciousness to better human condition.
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