Assistant Professor, Department of Human Physiology
Ph.D. University of Alberta
B.Sc. University of British Columbia
Overview: Research in the Huxtable laboratory focuses on the neural control of breathing (the central brainstem and spinal cord networks), with a specific focus on how inflammation (throughout the body and/or brain) undermines breathing. Breathing is a “simple”, rhythmic motor behaviour essential to maintaining life and homeostasis of blood gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide). The respiratory system begins generating episodic breathing rhythms in the womb and more regular rhythms abruptly at birth to begin exchange of blood gases, where it remains active until death. Despite the necessary robustness of the system, it is not a hardwired, immutable system even in adulthood. The respiratory system must be plastic (learn from previous experiences) and adapt to changes in state (sleep, wake), activity, aging, and disease or injury. The goal of Huxtable laboratory is to understand how the unstable respiratory network of premature or newborn infants are affected by inflammation, which commonly occurs with illness, infection, injury, and during the normal birthing process. Additionally, Dr. Huxtable’s research has shown a vulnerability of respiratory plasticity (a long-term change in respiratory motor output) in adults to inflammation. The current focus of the lab now is on whether inflammation during the perinatal period alters long-term respiratory network function and motor plasticity into adulthood. Research in the Huxtable laboratory combines concepts from neuroscience, respiratory physiology, and the immune system to answer basic science questions.
Dr. Huxtable currently has undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral positions open in her laboratory and is happy to discuss research opportunities with interested trainees.
Front Physiol. 2021 Feb 25;12:604593. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.604593. eCollection 2021.
Pregnant women and developing infants are understudied populations in the opioid crisis, despite the rise in opioid use during pregnancy. Maternal opioid use results in diverse negative outcomes for the fetus/newborn, including death; however, the effects of perinatal (maternal and neonatal) opioids on developing respiratory circuitry are not well understood. Given the profound depressive effects of opioids on central respiratory networks controlling breathing, we tested the hypothesis that perinatal opioid exposure impairs respiratory neural circuitry, creating breathing instability. Our data demonstrate maternal opioids increase apneas and destabilize neonatal breathing. Maternal opioids also blunted opioid-induced respiratory frequency depression acutely in neonates; a unique finding since adult respiratory circuity does not desensitize to opioids. This desensitization normalized rapidly between postnatal days 1 and 2 (P1 and P2), the same age quantal slowing emerged in respiratory rhythm. These data suggest significant reorganization of respiratory rhythm generating circuits at P1-2, the same time as the preBötzinger Complex (key site of respiratory rhythm generation) becomes the dominant respiratory rhythm generator. Thus, these studies provide critical insight relevant to the normal developmental trajectory of respiratory circuits and suggest changes to mutual coupling between respiratory oscillators, while also highlighting how maternal opioids alter these developing circuits. In conclusion, the results presented demonstrate neurorespiratory disruption by maternal opioids and blunted opioid-induced respiratory frequency depression with neonatal opioids, which will be important for understanding and treating the increasing population of neonates exposed to gestational opioids.