Disparity in the effect of morphine on eupnea and gasping in anesthetized spontaneously breathing adult rats

Amanda Shoemaker, Kevin Steelman, Rebeka Srbu, Harold J. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The goal of this study was to examine the effects of systemic morphine on the pattern and morphology of gasping breathing during respiratory autoresuscitation from transient anoxia. We hypothesized that systemic morphine levels sufficient to cause significant depression of eupnea would also cause depression of gasping breathing. Respiratory and cardiovascular variables were studied in 20 spontaneously breathing pentobarbital-anaesthetized adult male rats. Sham (saline) injections caused no significant change in resting respiratory or cardiovascular variables (n = 10 rats). Morphine, on the other hand, caused significant depression of eupneic breathing, with ventilation and peak inspiratory flow decreased by ~30-60%, depending on the background condition (n = 10 rats). In contrast, morphine did not depress gasping breathing. Duration of primary apnea, time to restore eupnea, the number and amplitude of gasping breaths, average and maximum peak flows, and volume of gasping breaths were not significantly different postinjection in either condition. Blood pressures were all significantly lower following morphine injection at key time points in the process of autoresuscitation. Last, rate of successful recovery from anoxia was 80% in the morphine group (8/10 rats) compared with 100% (10/10 rats) in the sham group, postinjection. We conclude that the mechanisms and/or anatomic correlates underlying generation of gasping rhythm are distinct from those underlying eupnea, allowing gasping to remain robust to systemic morphine levels causing significant depression of eupnea. Morphine nevertheless decreases likelihood of recovery from transient anoxia, possibly as a result of decreased tissue perfusion pressures at critical time points during the process of respiratory autoresuscitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R526-R540
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 20 2020


  • Autoresuscitation
  • Eupnea
  • Gasping
  • Opioids
  • Respiratory depression


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