The respiratory and arousal responses to mild hypoxia during quiet sleep were studied using inductive plethysmography and transcutaneous gas electrodes in 11 apnoeic infants before and after the administration of oral theophylline (3 mg/kg). Theophylline changed the ventilatory response to a more biphasic pattern--that is, ventilation decreased after an initial increase. The relative ventilatory slope (defined as the decrease in transcutaneous carbon dioxide tension (PCO2) in relation to the fall in transcutaneous oxygen tension (PO2)) decreased significantly after theophylline. Four infants were roused during hypoxia before theophylline administration compared with none after treatment. Theophylline abolished the periodic breathing induced by hypoxia in one of six infants. These findings suggest that methylxanthines may not, as previously thought, enhance the respiratory drive during hypoxia.
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