Breathing Neurons

How do we breathe?

Breathing is a seemingly simple, fundamental behavior that occurs about 12 times each minute. In addition, our breath switches between different types, like sighs, yawns, and sniffs, and we must coordinate our breath with other behaviors, like swallowing and coughing. Our hypothesis is that subsets of neurons within the brainstem breathing pacemaker node carry out these different tasks. Recently we have identified three molecularly distinct neural types, each ~100-200 neurons, that pace basal breathing (Oprm1/Dbx1), switch a normal breath into a sigh breath (Nmbr/Grpr), and relay the breathing signal to a higher brainstem center that promotes arousal (Cdh9/Dbx1). These examples motivate us to continue to explore the single cell molecular diversity of neurons and what functions they play in breathing. We use many techniques include single cell mRNA sequencing, novel genetics and viruses, in vivo and in vivo electrophysiology, imaging, optogenetics, and multiple ways to measure breathing during various behaviors.