Ondine’s curse and primary alveolar hypoventilation

Ondine’s curse maybe a familiar phrase to you, after going through the respiratory system topics.When I came across this story in my PG entrance book, I wanted to know more about Goddess Ondine and Ondine’s curse.

Ondine (ballet)

Ondine (ballet) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ondine was a water goddess, a nymph in French foklore written by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. Nymphs are immortals.If a nymph falls in love with a man and bears his child,she will become mortal and age like a mortal woman, thus losing her eternal youthfullness and beauty.

When Ondine saw the handsome young Palemon she was smitten and began to watch for him on his daily walks. When Palemon noticed her, he was taken by her incredible beauty and came back frequently to try to get a glimpse of her again.

Eventually they talked and fell in love. He broke his engagement with the young noblewoman Berta and, in time, convinced Ondine to marry him. When they exchanged their wedding oaths, Palemon vowed that “My every waking breath shall be my pledge of love and faithfulness to you.”



But it was not to be.


The following year Ondine gave birth to their son. From that moment on, her beauty began to fade, her body suddenly susceptible to the effects of age. As her youthful attractiveness gave way to a more mature beauty, Palemon’s eye began to wander to the younger women he met at court.


One fateful day Ondine was out walking on their estate when she heard the sound of Palemon’s familiar snoring. Planning to take him back home so he could finish his nap, the amused Ondine entered the stables to wake him.


The scene she encountered filled her with great sorrow. Discarded garments littered the floor and her beloved Palemon lay sleeping in the haystack, his arms wrapped around his former fiance Berta. Having sacrificed her immortality for this man, she was filled with anger and regret.


Kicking her sleeping husband, she woke him and uttered her curse. “You pledged faithfulness to me with your every waking breath and I accepted that pledge. So be it. For as long as you are awake, you shall breathe. But should you ever fall into sleep, that breath will desert you.”And so it was.

Palemon would never sleep again.Primary alveolar hypoventilation is another name for Ondine’s curse.

In mammals, rhythmic respiratory activity is generated in the pre-Bötzinger complex, which is formed by a network of six physiologically different neuronal populations Selective lesioning of this neuronal network causes rhythmic respiratory activity to cease,resulting in apneustic breathing also known as curse of Ondine or just as Ondine’s curse.

  1. Actually Ondines curse is also called Congenital Central Hypoventilation Syndrome

    CCHS is a multisystem disorder of the central nervous system where, most dramatically, the automatic control of breathing is absent or impaired. A CCHS patient’s respiratory response to low blood oxygen saturation (hypoxia) or to CO2 retention (hypercapnia) is sluggish during awake hours and absent to varying degrees during sleep, serious illness, and/or stress.

    My Daughter who is now 11 has Ondines curse or if you will CCHS

  2. very useful article thank you. keep posting.

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