Study Delves Into Sleep Apnea
By Naseem Sowti
New research suggests that people who die in their sleep may have stopped breathing because of a long-term degeneration of certain cells in the brain.
Jack Feldman, a professor of neurobiology at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, said his team's findings could reveal the mechanism behind what is called "central" sleep apnea, usually diagnosed in people older than 65.
Sleep apnea refers to repetitive pauses in breathing during sleep.
In a paper published yesterday in the online edition of Nature Neuroscience, Feldman reported discovering a region of the brain stem in rats that consists of about 600 cells and that helps to control breathing rhythm. "We found that if we destroyed 80 percent of these cells, rats could not breathe normally," he said. He called this region preBotC.
"We speculate that what's happening is that humans may have a few thousand of these cells," Feldman said, and that these cells may be lost during a person's lifetime to the point that the brain cannot compensate for their loss and the person stops breathing as he sleeps. This could also be the case for patients who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.
Leanne McKay, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA and a member of Feldman's team, is studying the preBotC area in human brain tissue obtained from cadavers and plans to compare them to the brains of patients who died from a neurological disease such as Parkinson's or ALS -- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
Ultimately, Feldman hopes his lab's research will lead to the development of treatments for those who suffer from central sleep apnea.
"We all take breathing for granted," he said.
Original source: http://www.washingtonpost.com