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Link between respiration and high blood pressure in sleep apnea studied at IUPUI

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science

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IMAGE: Yaroslav Molkov, Ph.D, is an assistant professor of mathematics in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. view more

Credit: School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS -- Sleep apnea affects an estimated 25 million adults in the United States and is associated with increased risk of hypertension, stroke, health attack and heart failure.

Yaroslav Molkov, assistant professor of mathematics in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, has received a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the neuroscience underlying obstructive sleep apnea -- specifically targeting how respiration and high blood pressure are linked in the brain.

Obstructive sleep apnea is characterized by recurrent upper airway collapses resulting in brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. Episodes occur repeatedly. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea has cumulative effects on the cardiovascular system, leading to hypertension that may be drug resistant. It is estimated that half of all individuals with obstructive sleep apnea are hypertensive.

The five-year award (R01AT008632-01) from NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health will enable Molkov to develop a computational model to simulate the electrical signals generated by neurons that travel from the brain to the muscles controlling breathing and blood vessels.

Molkov and neurophysiologists Ana Abdala and Julian Paton of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and Daniel Zoccal of Sao Paulo State University in Brazil are collaborating on this interdisciplinary project that will investigate the mechanisms that link breathing and control of blood pressure in the brain in both health and disease.

Molkov's work will inform the neurophysiology experiments, and he will translate findings of this work into what he describes as the first computer model with the potential to generate effective means of controlling hypertension by exploiting its association with respiratory mechanisms.

"Understanding the complex neuroscience of how breathing and control of blood pressure are linked in the brain will be instrumental in developing alternative approaches to treatment of hypertension," said Molkov, who joined the School of Science at IUPUI in 2011. "Conventional therapeutic management is poor. New answers are needed."

Molkov is an applied mathematician with extensive training in computational neuroscience.

For the past several years, he has studied neurophysiology of respiration and worked with respiratory system physiological data, computer modeling of neurons, neural networks and large-scale neural systems, and analyzed these models. He is the first author of "A Closed-Loop Model of the Respiratory System: Focus on Hypercapnia and Active Expiration," published in PLOS One on Oct. 10, 2014 and of "Physiological and Pathophysiological Interactions Between the Respiratory Central Pattern Generator and the Sympathetic Nervous System," published in Progress in Brain Research in 2014.

IUPUI students at the undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral levels will work with Molkov on the study.

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About the School of Science

The School of Science at IUPUI is committed to excellence in teaching, research and service in the biological, physical, behavioral and mathematical sciences. The school is dedicated to being a leading resource for interdisciplinary research and science education in support of Indiana's effort to expand and diversify its economy.

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