In a recent study published in the March issue of Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, Dr. David Fuller, Dr. Michelle Singer (a former BREATHE trainee and Fuller Lab member now completing her postdoc at Johns Hopkins), and their colleagues have demonstrated for the first time that light can be used as a stimulus to activate tongue muscles in spontaneously breathing mice.
The tongue is a dynamic structure capable of moving in an almost infinite number of directions; however, inadequate or dysfunctional activation of tongue muscles can lead to sleep apnea, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing. Subsequently, focal application of a light stimulus was able to evoke contraction of the tongue muscles in a manner that effectively mimicked the activation that typically occurs during breathing.
These experiments demonstrate that optogenetic technology enables highly effective, light-induced activation of the tongue during spontaneous breathing. According to Fuller, “these findings lay the groundwork for an entirely novel way to therapeutically target conditions associated with impaired or reduced lingual activation, including obstructive sleep apnea.”