The overarching goal of our laboratory is to understand how the myriad of neurons and glia in our brain are organized into circuits that keep us alive and enable complex behaviors that may be disrupted in diseases ranging from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the leading cause of neonate death in the United States, to panic disorder, the most common mental illness in the United States.
On the surface, SIDS and panic disorder may have little in common. However, there is indeed a likely nexus in the neural control of breathing. In SIDS, defined as the death of an infant for which no cause of death can be determined, the current thinking is that in many cases there are small-unseen abnormalities in brain regions that regulate breathing, leaving the infant vulnerable. Conversely, a connection between breathing and anxiety has long been appreciated, such that breathing challenges are used in clinical diagnostic tests for panic disorder and this relationship is best appreciated in our common perception of a panic attack where a person breaths too much and risks passing out. Unfortunately, little is known about these critical breathing circuits that are also important in spinal cord injuries where the number one desire for quadriplegic patients is to breath on their own, or in neuro-degenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, where the ultimate cause of death is typically respiratory arrest. Thus, we aim to define the neural pathways important in breathing to understand how they may be targeted for therapeutic interventions and predicative diagnostic tests.