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Discovery of unique muscle fibers of upper airway in humans

Umea University

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IMAGE: This is Farhan Shah, one of the researchers at Umeå University who discovered unique muscle fibers of upper airways often present in snorers and sleep apnea patients -- a discovery... view more

Credit: Per Melander

Researchers at Umeå University in Sweden have discovered unique muscle fibers in the soft palate of the mouth in both infants and adults. The fibers seem to be present in greater number in snorers and sleep apnea patients. The findings were recently published article in the Journal of Anatomy.

"This discovery of special group of fibers gives us deeper insight into the complex anatomy and physiology of the upper airway and evolutionary specialization. These unique fibers have a special molecular build-up with an absence or modified design of some key proteins. Surprisingly, absence of these proteins have only been reported in genetic muscular diseases," says Farhan Shah, researcher at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology at Umeå University and lead author of the article.

The team at the Umeå University Laboratory of Muscle Biology, under the leadership of Associate Professor Per Stål, has taken a novel approach to see if snoring vibrations and tissue stretch can cause neuromuscular damage in upper airways and result in obstructive sleep apnea and swallowing dysfunction. These unique fibers were discovered while investigating muscles from both healthy subjects and obstructive sleep apnea patients.

The ongoing project seeks to better understand upper airway muscle function in health and in disorders as obstructive sleep apnea, dysphagia and speech disorders. Sleep apnea is associated with serious potential implications such as cardiovascular disorders, dementia and early death.

"Our published findings are significant and will hopefully help guide more successful treatment strategies in the future. This is just a step along the way, but it is an important one," said Per Stål, associate professor at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology.

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