New research from the University of Toronto shows that the brain might be more plastic than previously suspected, a quality that will help it overcome the damage inflicted by sleep apnea. The study, published in the December 2010 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, studied the body's ability to lay down an adaptive respiratory memory.
Researchers studied long-term facilitation of breathing in response to repeated apneic and hypopneic events. In response to these types of events, the body lays down a respiratory memory that that strengthens the ability of respiratory motoneurons to trigger contraction of breathing muscles. In particular, the researchers looked at the effect obstructive sleep apnea had on a number of motoneurons in test rats. In studied rats, the breathing interruptions strengthened muscle tone in the tongue and the muscle that supports it from the chin. Interestingly, this stimulation did not affect the nerves controlling the diaphragm.
This research may help find a drug treatment that can support current forms of sleep apnea treatment. However, the treatment may not be successful if it is not coupled with appropriate positioning of the lower jaw, which supports the tongue. This repositioning of the lower jaw can be accomplished with an oral appliance. With support from a new drug treatment, oral appliance therapy may become the frontline treatment for obstructive sleep apnea even for severe cases. However, since this feedback channel does not stimulate the diaphragm, it may not be a good treatment avenue for central sleep apnea.
To learn more about the sleep apnea treatment options available, please contact a local sleep dentist today.