The effect of brain serotonin deficiency on breathing is magnified by age
Serotonin is an important mediator modulating behavior, metabolism, sleep, control of breathing, and upper airway function, but the role of aging in serotonin-mediated effects has not been previously defined. Our study aimed to examine the effect of brain serotonin deficiency on breathing during sleep and metabolism in younger and older mice. We measured breathing during sleep, hypercapnic ventilatory response (HCVR), CO2 production (VCO2), and O2 consumption (VO2) in 16–18-
week old and 40–44-week old mice with deficiency of tryptophan hydroxylase 2 (Tph2), which regulates serotonin synthesis specifically in neurons, compared to Tph2+/+ mice. As expected, aging decreased VCO2 and VO2. Tph2 knockout resulted in an increase in both metabolic indexes and no interaction between age and the genotype was observed. During wakefulness, neither
age nor genotype had an effect on minute ventilation. The genotype did not affect hypercapnic sensitivity in younger mice. During sleep, Tph2−/− mice showed significant decreases in maximal inspiratory flow in NREM sleep, respiratory rate, and oxyhemoglobin saturation in REM sleep, compared to wildtype, regardless of age. Neither serotonin deficiency nor aging affected the frequency of flow limited breaths (a marker of upper airway closure) or apneas. Serotonin deficiency increased the amount and efficiency of sleep only in older animals. In conclusion, younger Tph2−/− mice were able to defend their ventilation and phenotypically did not differ from wildtype during wakefulness. In contrast, both young and old Tph2−/− mice showed sleep-related hypoventilation, which was manifested by hypoxemia during REM sleep.