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Impaired neural structure and function contributing to autonomic symptoms in congenital central hypoventilation syndrome.

  • Author(s): Harper, Ronald M
  • Kumar, Rajesh
  • Macey, Paul M
  • Harper, Rebecca K
  • Ogren, Jennifer A
  • et al.

Congenital central hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS) patients show major autonomic alterations in addition to their better-known breathing deficiencies. The processes underlying CCHS, mutations in the PHOX2B gene, target autonomic neuronal development, with frame shift extent contributing to symptom severity. Many autonomic characteristics, such as impaired pupillary constriction and poor temperature regulation, reflect parasympathetic alterations, and can include disturbed alimentary processes, with malabsorption and intestinal motility dyscontrol. The sympathetic nervous system changes can exert life-threatening outcomes, with dysregulation of sympathetic outflow leading to high blood pressure, time-altered and dampened heart rate and breathing responses to challenges, cardiac arrhythmia, profuse sweating, and poor fluid regulation. The central mechanisms contributing to failed autonomic processes are readily apparent from structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, which reveal substantial cortical thinning, tissue injury, and disrupted functional responses in hypothalamic, hippocampal, posterior thalamic, and basal ganglia sites and their descending projections, as well as insular, cingulate, and medial frontal cortices, which influence subcortical autonomic structures. Midbrain structures are also compromised, including the raphe system and its projections to cerebellar and medullary sites, the locus coeruleus, and medullary reflex integrating sites, including the dorsal and ventrolateral medullary nuclei. The damage to rostral autonomic sites overlaps metabolic, affective and cognitive regulatory regions, leading to hormonal disruption, anxiety, depression, behavioral control, and sudden death concerns. The injuries suggest that interventions for mitigating hypoxic exposure and nutrient loss may provide cellular protection, in the same fashion as interventions in other conditions with similar malabsorption, fluid turnover, or hypoxic exposure.

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