Ventilatory chaos is strongly linked to the activity of central pattern generators, alone or influenced by respiratory or cardiovascular afferents. We hypothesized that carotid atherosclerosis should alter ventilatory chaos through baroreflex and autonomic nervous system dysfunctions. Chaotic dynamics of inspiratory flow was prospectively evaluated in 75 subjects undergoing carotid ultrasonography: 27 with severe carotid stenosis (>70%), 23 with moderate stenosis (<70%), and 25 controls. Chaos was characterized by the noise titration method, the correlation dimension and the largest Lyapunov exponent. Baroreflex sensitivity was estimated in the frequency domain. In the control group, 92% of the time series exhibit nonlinear deterministic chaos with positive noise limit, whereas only 68% had a positive noise limit value in the stenoses groups. Ventilatory chaos was impaired in the groups with carotid stenoses, with significant parallel decrease in the noise limit value, correlation dimension and largest Lyapunov exponent, as compared to controls. In multiple regression models, the percentage of carotid stenosis was the best in predicting the correlation dimension (p<0.001, adjusted R(2): 0.35) and largest Lyapunov exponent (p<0.001, adjusted R(2): 0.6). Baroreflex sensitivity also predicted the correlation dimension values (p = 0.05), and the LLE (p = 0.08). Plaque removal after carotid surgery reversed the loss of ventilatory complexity. To conclude, ventilatory chaos is impaired in carotid atherosclerosis. These findings depend on the severity of the stenosis, its localization, plaque surface and morphology features, and is independently associated with baroreflex sensitivity reduction. These findings should help to understand the determinants of ventilatory complexity and breathing control in pathological conditions
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