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Biology Colloquium | Dr. Alex C. Keene | Friday Sep 23rd, 2022

The evolution of sleep loss in Mexican cavefish

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Animals are highly tuned to sense changes in both internal and external environments and adapt their behavior accordingly. We are currently developing the Mexican cavefish as a model identify novel regulators of sleep and feeding behavior. These fish display exist as eyed-surface populations that inhabit the rivers of northeast Mexico and multiple blind populations of the same species that inhabit nutrient poor cave environments and have converged on sleep loss. We have identified a number of neuromodulators that contribute to the evolution of sleep loss in A. mexicanus cavefish including upregulation of the wake promoting neuropeptide implicated in human narcolepsy Hypocretin/Orexin. In addition, we have developed transgenic and gene-editing methodology in this emergent model system allowing for systematic investigation of the genes and neurons regulating evolved differences in sleep. Systematic analysis has identified convergence on wide-spread neuroanatomical differences between surface fish and cavefish including hypothalamic expansion that is accompanied by increased sleep intensity.  Current studies seek to identify how naturally occurring genetic variation contributes do these phenotypes. Investigating the mechanisms of sleep loss in Mexican cavefish has potential to provide insights into the variation in sleep need throughout the animal kingdom, and even between humans. Further, the resources developed to study sleep can be broadly applied to study other cavefish associated traits including obesity, diabetes, and dysregulation of stress response. 


About Speaker:

Dr. Alex C. Keene graduated with a BS from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst  in 2002. He then obtained his PhD in  Biomedical Sciences  in 2006 from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA studying memory in Drosophila. He is currently Professor and Head, Department of Biology, Texas A&M University. He has previously worked at several renowned universities & research centers including Florida Atlantic University, New York University, and the Institute of Molecular Pathology, Vienna, as a professor & researcher. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including recently being named a Kavli Fellow of the US National Academy of Sciences. His pioneering work on sleep in cavefish and other model systems has led to close to a hundred peer-reviewed publications in top journals and several book chapters.


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