Research Projects

Ongoing studies in our laboratory primarily follow these three lines of investigation

Neurochemical mechanisms of sedative effects on sleep homeostasis

Preclinical studies suggest that the behavioral quiescence induced through sedative-hypnotics, used ubiquitously in ICUs and perioperative care, may provide a substitute for some aspects of sleep. However, it is still unknown if and how sedative-induced behavioral quiescence can provide a physiological sleep-like state. A mechanistic understanding of the effect of sedative-hypnotics on sleep homeostasis will allow for the characterization of a sedative regimen that may provide sleep-like benefits and facilitate patient recovery in perioperative and critical care. These studies are funded through a NIGMS R01 to Dr. Pal.

Neural mechanisms of cortical control of consciousness

Wakefulness or behavioral arousal has long been viewed as a bottom-up or sub-cortical phenomenon but the role of the cortex in modulating the states of arousal is not clear. Besides the foundational importance for a better understanding of sleep-wake circuits, this is important because cortex is clinically accessible and can be targeted to improve the signs of consciousness in patients with disorders of consciousness as well as faster and improved recovery from anesthetic-induced unconsciousness. These studies are funded through a multi-PI NIGMS R01 to Drs. Mashour and Pal.

Neural underpinnings of psychedelic states

A number of naturally occurring substances and synthetic compounds are known to induce dissociative and psychedelic states in humans. While a report-based confirmation of such experience in rodents is not possible, we can use rodent models to gain critical insights into neural circuitry that alter the level of consciousness accompanying the content. In the ongoing studies, we are investigating the effect of dissociative anesthetics, ketamine and nitrous oxide, on cortical dynamics. In addition, we have planned similar studies with Salvinorin-A and DMT, which induce strong psychedelic experience in humans.