Greg Funk (PhD, University of British Columbia)

3-020G Katz Group Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T6G 2E1

Tel: 780 492-8330


Research Description

Our laboratory is interested in basic mechanisms of neuronal information processing within respiratory networks. We are trying to understand how neurons and networks of neurons in the brainstem and spinal cord produce a breathing rhythm that is not only reliable and robust, but is also very dynamic. Its robust nature is evident in that, at least in mammals, it begins intermittently in utero and then continues virtually uninterrupted from birth until death. Its dynamic nature is apparent in that its output can change by orders of magnitude on multiple time scales to meet the changing metabolic demands that occur during development, with changes in state (sleep – wake cycling), transitions from rest to exercise, and trips to altitude.

An important factor underlying this dynamic range is that the excitability of neurons, including motoneurons that drive the respiratory muscles, are modulated by a vast number of excitatory and inhibitory neurochemical systems.

A major goal of our lab is to provide fundamental insight into the molecular, cellular and synaptic mechanisms by which these modulatory systems affect respiratory behaviour, and how these effects change during development and with state. We are most interested in modulatory systems whose activity changes with sleep-wake cycling since, from a clinical perspective, sleep is associated with respiratory instabilities in both newborns and adults. We are affiliated with the Perinatal Research Centre at the University of Alberta.

Brainstem spinal cord and medullary slice preparations that continue to generate respiratory related rhythm in vitro are produced from rodents ranging in age between newborn to 2 weeks. These preparations faciltate analysis of functionally identified neurons as they operate in active networks.

Electrophysiological techniques

  • Whole-cell patch clamp recording for recording activity/properties of single neurons
  • Extracellular nerve recording for monitoring rhythmic motor activity
  • Voltammetry for measuring release of specific neurotransmitters
  • Calcium imaging for monitoring voltage- or transmitter-induced changes in intracellular calcium concentration

Anatomical and molecular techniques
These are for identifying neuron morphology and characterizing expression levels and distribution on the somatodendritic tree of voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels:

  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Laser capture microdissection (Arcturus Autopix)
  • Molecular analysis (RT-PCR, Q-PCR)
  • Confocal microscopy

Selected publications