Current Research and Scholarly Interests
My research is focused on the genetics of sleep and understanding its relationship to neurological disease.
The brain generates complex patterns of electrical activity that can be measured by electroencephalography (EEG) and thought of as an 'EEG fingerprint' that is unique to individuals. The EEG fingerprint is particularly evident during sleep, when brain activity is generated in the absence of consciousness and sensory inputs. I am interested in genes that regulate the brain circuitry and neurochemistry that generates this EEG fingerprint.
By refining techniques for EEG analysis of human sleep data, we are exploring how variations in the genome influence differences in brain activity during sleep. Many micro-architectural features of EEG activity, such as sleep spindles and k-complexes, are heritable and trait-like. Specific patterns of the EEG fingerprint are altered early in the progression of certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as Huntington disease and Parkinson disease, as well as psychiatric conditions that are associated with sleep disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia.
These stable traits in the EEG fingerprint are endophenotypes - biomarkers of disease with a clear genetic basis - and can lead to a better understanding of the neurobiological basis of sleep and neurological disorders.