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How the Brain Regulates Breathing

The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a $1.45 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes supporting research investigating the neural control of respiration.

Hubert V. Forster, Ph.D., professor of physiology, is the primary investigator of the grant. In this project, he will study the mechanisms by which the brain regulates breathing. Orchestration of the release and metabolism of multiple neurochemicals is crucial in this regulation, but how this occurs remains poorly understood. His laboratory studies the ways in which neurochemicals interact under normal conditions, and how these interactions become dysfunctional in conditions such as sleep apnea or during opioid administration.

During sleep, breathing is reduced. Researchers believe this is due to natural fluctuations in neurochemicals that normally stimulate breathing. This potentially vulnerable respiratory state may underlie the depressive effects on breathing of clinical or recreational opioid use, and the development of sleep-disordered breathing (SDB) and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). SDB and OSA have become increasingly prevalent among American adults and are associated with conditions such as hypertension.

Objectives of the grant include understanding the pathology of SDB and OSA, and the respiratory effects of opioids at the whole animal and neurochemical level. A long-term goal of these studies is to provide insight on the prevention and management of these conditions.

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Page Updated 08/23/2013