Nils Koch

Supervisor: Silvia Pagliardini

Project: Recruitment of expiratory activity to potentiate ventilation during sleep

Degree program:

Medicine & Dentistry-Physiology

Lay abstract:

Breathing in the newborn period of full term and premature babies is often irregular during sleep, in particular during REM sleep. Breathing is usually interrupted by pauses (apneas) often associated with drops in oxygenation and potential life-threatening events. The ability to maintain regular breathing and/or recover from these respiratory disturbances is fundamental for survival. Therapies to treat these conditions exist but often patients do not respond to treatments and no other pharmacological agents are available. Ongoing work from our laboratory has demonstrated that recruitment of expiratory activity during sleep improve ventilation both in the perinatal period and in the adult life of rodents. Furthermore, our work has demonstrated that a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which is released during period of REM sleep, is able to activate the region of the brain that controls expiratory activity therefore promoting ventilation during periods of irregular breathing. The objective of this summer project is to further investigate nuclei in the brain that release this neurotransmitter in order to control recruitment of expiratory activity and therefore ameliorate breathing during sleep. We will use state of the art technologies and transgenic models to test the hypothesis that cholinergic modulation influences recruitment of expiratory activity and ventilation in an animal model of sleep.

What motivated you to participate in this research?

I completed a studentship in the lab of Silvia Pagliardini last summer on a different facet of respiratory control. This summer I wanted to further expand my knowledge of respiratory control by investigating active expiration, a phenomenon that fascinates me whilst working on a project with potential clinical ramifications for the health and treatment of children and infants. Additionally, I wanted to further develop my skills as a researcher.

What are your career aspirations?

I plan on obtaining a graduate degree in neuroscience in order to have a career in biomedical research. My goal is to be involved in interdisciplinary research into physiological systems that includes basic research as well as translational research. I strongly believe that biomedical research, both basic and clinically based research, will have large impacts on treatments and health in general. As such, I believe that I can make a positive impact in the world by pursuing biomedical research.

How has this studentship helped you toward those aspirations?

This studentship has provided me with the opportunity to further my skills in critical scientific thinking through interactions with graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and principle investigators as well as in meetings and seminars. Additionally, I’ve been able to learn cutting-edge and frequently used techniques during my summer studentship that provide a basis for my journey into biomedical investigation. As a result of this studentship, I’ve further developed skills and learned techniques valuable for my future as a neuroscientist.