We seek to understand the neural origins of rhythmic behaviors such as walking, running, swimming, breathing, and chewing, among others.
We address this general problem using respiration (breathing) as a model system. The need to breathe is obvious: inspiratory breathing movements underlie ventilation, pulmonary gas exchange, and homeostasis. The brain is heavily invested in maintaining and defending respiration.
Brain circuits that generate breathing movements are setup during embryonic development and are ready to go at birth. These key circuits continue to function continuously for the lifetime of an animal. In humans, their dysfunction contributes to pathologies including apnea of prematurity, SIDS in babies, obstructive sleep apnea in adults, as well as respiratory failure in geriatric patients and sufferers of neurodegenerative disorders.
In addition to its significance for understanding human physiology and pathology, unraveling the neural origins of breathing behavior may reveal general principles of neurophysiology that apply to generating a wide array rhythmic behaviors in mammals and across phylogeny.