Morehouse School of Medicine Researchers Receive $1 Million Grant to Study Mechanisms Underlying Sleep Homeostasis

ATLANTA – Feb. 28, 2019 – Researchers at Morehouse School of Medicine have received a three-year, $1,000,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study the mechanisms underlying sleep homeostasis – the body’s effort to maintain an adequate amount of sleep.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of U.S. adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep. Inadequate sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression—that threaten our nation’s health.

Our biological daily clock signals organisms to be awake at the appropriate time of day, while an unknown homeostatic process drives when, how long, and how deep we sleep after being awake. Despite a grounded understanding of the biological clock and how it promotes wakefulness, researchers know almost nothing about how sleep homeostasis works. 

“Identification of these sleep homeostasis neurons will be a tremendous breakthrough and foster additional research aimed at identifying the neuronal and molecular mechanisms underlying sleep homeostasis in mammals,” says Jason DeBruyne, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology and principal investigator (PI) of the study.

The award follows the recent discovery of a novel genetic tool that will help facilitate investigations aimed at understanding this fundamental aspect of sleep regulation. The goal of the proposed project is to leverage this innovative genetic tool, combined with cutting-edge genetic and neuron-level 3-D brain imaging techniques, to identify the specific neurons that are essential for sleep homeostasis in mammals.

 “Successful implementation of this project would increase our research capacity in genetics, sleep recording, and cutting-edge neuroimaging,” says Gianluca Tosini, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer at MSM and a world-renowned researcher in the area of circadian biology. 

An additional project goal is to provide research opportunities for undergraduates in the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC). Funding will also help to further prepare five students for careers in the sciences through hands-on, multi-year research projects over the summer and academic school year. 

This project is a collaboration between DeBruyne (PI), J. Christopher Ehlen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Daniel Hummer, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Morehouse College.