Investigating how intrathoracic pressure changes affect cerebral blood flow (CBF) is important for a clear interpretation of neuroimaging data in patients with abnormal respiratory physiology, intensive care patients receiving mechanical ventilation and in research paradigms that manipulate intrathoracic pressure. Here, we investigated the effect of experimentally increased and decreased intrathoracic pressures upon CBF and the stimulus-evoked CBF response to visual stimulation. Twenty healthy volunteers received intermittent inspiratory and expiratory loads (plus or minus 9cmH2O for 270s) and viewed an intermittent 2Hz flashing checkerboard, while maintaining stable end-tidal CO2. CBF was recorded with transcranial Doppler sonography (TCD) and whole-brain pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging (PCASL MRI). Application of inspiratory loading (negative intrathoracic pressure) showed an increase in TCD-measured CBF of 4% and a PCASL-measured increase in grey matter CBF of 5%, but did not alter mean arterial pressure (MAP). Expiratory loading (positive intrathoracic pressure) did not alter CBF, while MAP increased by 3%. Neither loading condition altered the perfusion response to visual stimulation in the primary visual cortex. In both loading conditions localized CBF increases were observed in the somatosensory and motor cortices, and in the cerebellum. Altered intrathoracic pressures, whether induced experimentally, therapeutically or through a disease process, have possible significant effects on CBF and should be considered as a potential systematic confound in the interpretation of perfusion-based neuroimaging data.
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