Early detection of an oxygen deficit in the bloodstream is essential to initiate corrective changes in the breathing pattern of mammals. My research focuses on the critical role in this process of specialized oxygen-sensing organs called the carotid bodies. These tiny neurotransmitter rich organs are located at the bifurcation of the carotid arteries and respond to a fall in blood pO2 and pH with transmitter release. This mechanism evokes an increase in the firing frequency of the carotid sinus nerve which innervates the respiratory centers in the brain and ultimately corrects the pattern of breathing.
The laboratory uses a combination of techniques including electrophysiology, cellular imaging, amperometry, immunocytochemistry and molecular biology to address the following questions:
My recent research has indicated that the energy-sensing enzyme AMP-activated protein kinase is critical in the transduction of hypoxic-signalling by the carotid body. Future research will determine the importance of this enzyme not only in acute hypoxic-signalling but also in the plasticity observed in the carotid body during such disease states as sleep apnea.
Research in the Wyatt laboratory is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health.