The "other" respiratory effect of opioids: Suppression of spontaneous augmented ("sigh") breaths

Harold J. Bell, Elizabeth Azubike, Philippe Haouzi

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19 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a clinically relevant opioid on the production of augmented breaths (ABs) in unanesthetized animals breathing normal room air, using a dosage which does not depress breathing. To do this we monitored breathing noninvasively, in unrestrained animals before and after subcutaneous injection of either morphine, or a saline control. The effect of ketamine/xylazine was also studied to determine the potential effect of an alternative sedative agent. Last, the effect of naloxone was studied to determine the potential influence of endogenous opioids in regulating the normal incidence of ABs. Morphine (5 mg/kg) had no depressive effect on breathing, but completely eliminated ABs in all animals in room air (P < 0.027). However, when animals breathed hypoxic air (10% O 2), animals did express ABs, although their incidence was still reduced by morphine (P < 0.001). This was not a result of sedation per se, as ABs continued at their normal rate in room air during sedation with ketamine. Naloxone had no effect on breathing or AB production, and so endogenous opioids are not likely involved in regulating their rate of production under normal conditions. Our results show that in unanesthetized animals breathing normal room air, a clinically relevant opioid eliminates ABs, even at a dose that does not cause respiratory depression. Despite this, hypoxia-induced stimulation of breathing can facilitate the production of ABs even with the systemic opioid present, indicating that peripheral chemoreceptor stimulation provides a potential means of overcoming the opioid-induced suppression of these respiratory events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1296-1303
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


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