Respiratory physiology & neurobiology

Carotid chemoreceptor development and neonatal apnea.

PMID 22842008


The premature transition from fetal to neonatal life is accompanied by an immature respiratory neural control system. Most preterm infants exhibit recurrent apnea, resulting in repetitive oscillations in O(2) saturation (intermittent hypoxia, IH). Numerous factors are likely to play a role in the etiology of apnea including inputs from the carotid chemoreceptors. Despite major advances in our understanding of carotid chemoreceptor function in the early neonatal period, however, their contribution to the initiation of an apneic event and its eventual termination are still largely speculative. Recent findings have provided a detailed account of the postnatal changes in the incidence of hypoxemic events associated with apnea, and there is anecdotal evidence for a positive correlation with carotid chemoreceptor maturation. Furthermore, studies on non-human animal models have shown that chronic IH sensitizes the carotid chemoreceptors, which has been proposed to perpetuate the occurrence of apnea. An alternative hypothesis is that sensitization of the carotid chemoreceptors could represent an important protective mechanism to defend against severe hypoxemia. The purpose of this review, therefore, is to discuss how the carotid chemoreceptors may contribute to the initiation and termination of an apneic event in the neonate and the use of xanthine therapy in the prevention of apnea.