Breathing is a complex function that is dynamic, responsive, automatic and often unstable during early development. The carotid body senses dynamic changes in arterial oxygen and carbon dioxide tension and reflexly alters ventilation and plays an essential role in terminating apnea. The carotid body contributes 10–40% to baseline ventilation in newborns and has the greatest influence on breathing in premature infants who characteristically have unstable breathing leading to apnea of prematurity. In this review, we will discuss how both excessive and minimal contributions from the carotid body destabilizes breathing in premature infants and how exposures to hypoxia or infection can lead to changes in the sensitivity of the carotid body. We propose that inflammation/infection during a critical period of carotid body development causes acute and chronic changes in the carotid body contributing to a protracted course of intractable and severe apnea known to occur in a subset of premature infants.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine