Important networking

Lives-and even marriages-could be saved through a better understanding of how a network of cells in the preBötzinger Complex generate the rhythm of respiration.

"In neurodegenerative disorders, and often in elderly populations, cells die one by one through neurodegeneration or as part of the process of aging," Christopher Del Negro explains. "In these cases, people just drop dead in their sleep. You may be losing neurons one at a time in your preBötzinger Complex. If you lose neurons one at a time, you can go for weeks or months at a time, but as soon as you get to the breaking point, you go to sleep and then you die."

Sleep apnea can be a life-threatening condition, although the condition is generally less dire, but those who share a bed with an apnea sufferer (and the characteristic snoring) do plenty of suffering of their own. Del Negro's discovery could lead to relief for suffers of sleep apnea, as well as for those afflicted with more serious disorders including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's Disease.