E-Pearl of the Week: Ondine's Curse

Interested in submitting an E-Pearl?
Brought to you by the Residents & Fellows Section of Neurology®.

January 9, 2013

The eponym "Ondine's curse" in the medical literature usually refers to the failure of automatic respiratory drive with intact voluntary respiration. Ondine was a mythological water nymph who became human by falling in love with a mortal. The now-entrenched eponym is actually a misnomer, as Ondine has never cursed anyone.  Patients affected by Ondine's curse can have prolonged periods of apnea or hypopnea, particularly during sleep.  They may require nocturnal mechanical ventilation but depending on the cause, this may be temporary. Infarction involving the medulla is one of the most common causes of Ondine's curse. Other reported causes include loss of vagal and chemotactic input to the medullary carbon dioxide receptors, bulbar polio causing damage to the reticulospinal pathways, cervical cordotomy for pain control, and anterior spinal artery infarction.


  1. Mendoza M, Latorre JG. Reversible Ondine's Curse in a case of Lateral Medullary Infarction. Neurology. 2013; e13-e16.
  2. Nannapananeni R, Behari S, Todd NV, Mendelow AD. Retracing "Ondine's Curse". Neurosurgery. 2005;57: 354-363.

Submitted by: Jennifer E. Fugate, D.O.

Disclosure: Dr. Fugate served on the editorial team for the Neurology Resident and Fellow Section.

For more clinical pearls and other articles of interest to neurology trainees, visit the Neurology Residents & Fellows page.  Listen to this week's Neurology Podcast.


Forgot password?

**Due to required system maintenance on, some functions may be unavailable Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday (12/9/2017). Thank you for your patience.**