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Hydrogen sulfide regulates neural circuit for respiration

Hydrogen sulfide, recognized by its characteristic rotten egg smell, is synthesized in the respiratory center — an integral brain region governing respiration. Researchers at the University of Tsukuba have identified that hydrogen sulfide within the respiratory center plays a crucial role in maintaining the rhythm and depth of respiration by modulating neurotransmissions.

While commonly associated with the unpleasant odor of hot springs, hydrogen sulfide is naturally produced in the body. Despite its toxicity at higher concentrations, the lower concentrations generated internally are indispensable for life. Researchers from the University of Tsukuba have demonstrated the importance of hydrogen sulfide in the brain for normal respiration although the precise mechanism remained unclear.

The medullary respiratory center, responsible for the rhythm and depth of respiration, comprises various neurons dedicated for inspiration and expiration. In this study, researchers focused on the hydrogen sulfide production within the respiratory center. Results revealed that inhibiting hydrogen sulfide production alters neurotransmissions, leading to disruptions in the rhythm and depth of respiration.

Moreover, the study identified variations in this mechanism across distinct regions within the respiratory center. These results imply that hydrogen sulfide, produced in the respiratory center, exerts a modulating influence on neural circuits, contributing to the stability of respiration.

Understanding the role of hydrogen sulfide in respiration offers valuable insights into disorders characterized by respiratory irregularities and potential avenues for treatment. Furthermore, these findings deepen our understanding of how hydrogen sulfide sustains life.

This research was supported by Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Kakenhi grants (22H05557 and 23KJ0245), the Japan Science and Technology Agency SPRING (JPMJSP2124), and the Japan Foundation for Applied Enzymology Research Grant.


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