Neural Development – Postnatal development of the respiratory network

Prematurely born babies typically show apneas of prematurity and often require artificial ventilation. The Ramirez laboratory in collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. “Skip” Smith (Center for Developmental Therapeutics) studies the pre- and postnatal development of the respiratory network. Dr. Jenna Schuster characterizes changes in the respiratory network in prematurely born mice using a variety of electrophysiological and histological approaches. We are also interested in understanding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome which in human occurs predominantly during a certain developmental time window of 2 months. These children fail to resuscitate when exposed to hypoxic and hypercapnic conditions, and boys are more affected than girls. Our investigations in the respiratory network of mice indicate that neurons dependent on the persistent sodium currents are critical for gasping and autoresuscitation and these neurons and their modulation by serotonin are developmentally regulated. Developmental changes in the properties of these ionic currents could explain aspects of an increased sensitivity of the respiratory network and the gender difference during a certain window of postnatal development. In collaboration with Dr. Kamal Sharma (University of Chicago) we are also investigating the functional role of neurons of the embryonic V2a lineage in the control of breathing and sleep. These neurons are critical for maintaining normal respiratory drive in newly born mice.

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