Can the Brain Compensate for a Lack of Oxygen from Sleep Apnea?
According to a new article in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists in Toronto believe that they have been able to isolate a hormone that is produced when there is frequent interruption in breathing during sleep, such as what happens during a sleep apnea event.
Scientists from the University of Toronto simulated repeated obstruction of the airways in short 15 second intervals in rats by restricting air into their lungs repeatedly. What they found was that these repeated restrictions of breathing, or “apneas” caused the rats’ brains to gradually trigger more forceful contractions of their lungs, therefore causing progressively deeper breath intakes.
According to Dr. John Peever, lead author of the study and Associate Professor of Neuroscience, the study showed “that repeated disruption of normal lung activity — what happens during sleep apnea — triggers a form of learning that helps you breathe better.” He believes that this could be harnessed “to help overcome the breathing insufficiency that typifies sleep apnea.”
This study also found that the brain chemical noradrenaline allows this change in breathing to occur. It is what is required to cause brain plasticity and helps the brain to adjust to breathing more effectively when there are interruptions in breathing that occur over and over again such as when someone has sleep apnea.
The findings of this study are important because they suggest that drugs that affect noradrenaline levels in the brain may help improve breathing in patients suffering from sleep apnea, perhaps even the creation of a “sleep apnea pill” in the future.
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