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Previously we observed differential activation in individual columns of the periaqueductal grey (PAG) during breathlessness and its conditioned anticipation (Faull et al., 2016b). Here, we have extended this work by determining how the individual columns of the PAG interact with higher cortical centres, both at rest and in the context of breathlessness threat. Activation was observed in ventrolateral PAG (vlPAG) and lateral PAG (lPAG), where activity scaled with breathlessness intensity ratings, revealing a potential interface between sensation and cognition during breathlessness. At rest the lPAG was functionally correlated with cortical sensorimotor areas, conducive to facilitating fight/flight responses, and demonstrated increased synchronicity with the amygdala during breathlessness. The vlPAG showed fronto-limbic correlations at rest, whereas during breathlessness anticipation, reduced functional synchronicity was seen to both lPAG and motor structures, conducive to freezing behaviours. These results move us towards understanding how the PAG might be intricately involved in human responses to threat.

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brainstem, breathlessness, fMRI, functional connectivity, neuroscience, periaqueductal gray, Brain Mapping, Cerebral Cortex, Dyspnea, Humans, Neural Pathways, Periaqueductal Gray