IAB Research Project Description

Development of a Respiratory Neural Circuit: Ontogeny of Respiratory Drive

Brainstem of frog. Flickr image.

Frog brainstem. Flickr image.

Any and all uses of these images must include photographer credit.

Breathing is driven by the need to expel carbon dioxide (CO2), and CO2-sensitive neurons in the brainstem are critical to this drive. Identifying breathing-related, CO2-sensitive neurons in the central nervous system and characterizing their location, development, phenotype, function, and plasticity will be a major advance in how we understand breathing and its neural control.

Barbara Taylor’s research will identify neurons and mechanisms that underlie CO2 sensitivity by investigating a developing neural circuit that controls breathing. Her research will elucidate development of CO2-induced respiratory drive in an organism whose transition from aquatic to terrestrial life may reflect evolutionary changes common to vertebrates, including humans. The frog is an ideal research model organism because its isolated brainstem provides, at any stage of development, the intact and functional brainstem circuit that controls breathing, and it allows long-term investigation of central respiratory CO2 responses under normal physiological conditions. No other vertebrate model offers this suite of advantages.

Taylor’s research is expected to transform current thinking about developmental change in central CO2 sensitivity, emphasizing that it is not a predetermined neurodevelopment but a dynamic, and potentially harnessable, neuroplasticity. This provocative line of research will characterize the development and plasticity of respiratory drive. The intellectual merit of this project is the identification of specific, multiple mechanisms of CO2 sensitivity in the brainstem. The project has broader impact in providing students at all academic levels the opportunity to participate actively in neuroscience research. Taylor’s home institution, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and its Institute of Arctic Biology have a well-established culture of research-based teaching and experiential learning in life sciences. Already six high school, 21 undergraduate, and five graduate students have participated in this research - and this includes several Alaska Native and other diversity students.

Project Funding

National Science Foundation
1 Jul 2010 – 30 Jun 2014
IAB Proposal #2010-061
UAF Grant #G: TBA
IAB Project #208

Media Contact

Marie Thoms
Communications/Web Manager
Institute of Arctic Biology
302A Irving I
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000
email: methoms@alaska.edu
phone: 907.474.7412