A cortical contribution to breathing is determined by the presence of a Bereitschaftspotential, a low amplitude negativity in the averaged electroencephalographic (EEG) signal, which begins ~1 s before inspiration. It occurs in healthy individuals when external inspiratory loads to breathing are applied. In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), changes in the lung, chest wall and respiratory muscles produce an internal inspiratory load. We hypothesized that there would be a cortical contribution to quiet breathing in COPD and that a cortical contribution to breathing with an inspiratory load would be linked to dyspnoea, a major symptom of COPD. EEG activity was analysed in 14 participants with COPD (aged 57–84 years), 16 healthy age-matched (57–87 years) and 15 young (18–26 years) controls during quiet breathing and inspiratory loading. The presence of Bereitschaftspotentials, from ensemble averages of EEG epochs at Cz and FCz, were assessed by blinded assessors. Dyspnoea was rated using the Borg scale. The incidence of a cortical contribution to quiet breathing was significantly greater in participants with COPD (6/14) compared to the young (0/15) (P = 0.004) but not the age-matched controls (6/16) (P = 0.765). A cortical contribution to inspiratory loading was associated with higher Borg ratings (P = 0.007), with no effect of group (P = 0.242). The data show that increased age, rather than COPD, is associated with a cortical contribution to quiet breathing. A cortical contribution to inspiratory loading is associated with more severe dyspnoea. We propose that cortical mechanisms may be engaged to defend ventilation with dyspnoea as a consequence.
- cortical contribution