Goal 2: Reduce Human Disease

What are the biological consequences of sleep loss or disruption and how can they best be avoided?

Arousals in obstructive sleep apena (OSA) are life saving, but the associated disruption of sleep is now thought to cause cognitive impairment, increased risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, as well as glucose intolerance and metabolic syndrome. The mechanisms for these downstream effects, however, are not well understood. Can these specific pathophysiological mechanisms be identified, and can ways for mitigating the pathological outcomes be developed, without impairing the respiratory reflexes that are necessary to preserve life?

Is this idea a Compelling Question (CQ) or Critical Challenge (CC)? Critical Challenge (CC)

Details on the impact of addressing this CQ or CC

By identifying the mechanisms by which sleep loss or disruption affects cognitive, cardiovascular, and metabolic function, we hope to find key regulatory points for which interventions may be developed. For example, if we can allow respiratory reflex responses to reopen the airway without EEG activation during OSA, we may be able to forestall some of the cognitive consequences of inadequate sleep. If we can prevent the autonomic responses associated with the EEG arousals and increases in respiratory drive, we may be able to block the repetiive elevations of blood pressure that lead to long term hypertension and accelerated atherosclerosis. If we can identify the reason for metabolic derangement associated with OSA, we may find, for example, that it is due to circadian misalignment and find ways to realign the sequence of metabolic events with the actual wake-sleep patterns of the patients. Finally, if we can potentiate the respiratory reflexes that re-establish the airway in OSA, without triggering the other components of arousals, we may be able to minimize or prevent the apneas. While current methods for treating OSA (e.g., CPAP and dental appliances) help many people, many others cannot tolerate these devices, and we require additional modes of therapy to mitigate the consequences of OSA.

Feasibility and challenges of addressing this CQ or CC

The methods are currently available to address the questions that are raised above. The revolution in methods for evaluating the functions of neural circuits, using optogenetics and chemogenetics, for example, should allow us to identify brain circuits that are involved in the various components of the reflex responses to apnea. We can examine their neurotransmitters and receptors, and design new therapies based on manipulating CNS circuitry. Methods for assessing ongoing autonomic, respiratory, and metabolic responses in genetically mutated mouse modesl may require further miniaturization of various physiological methods, but this field is also rapidly advancing. Finally, methods for examining ongoing changes in neuronal activity in the living brain of awake mice are rapidly advancing.

Name of idea submitter and other team members who worked on this idea Clifford B Saper, MD, PhD

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Idea No. 534