Desipramine increases genioglossus activity and reduces upper airway collapsibility during non-REM sleep in healthy subjects

Luigi Taranto-Montemurro, Bradley A. Edwards, Scott A. Sands, Melania Marques, Danny J. Eckert, David P. White, Andrew Wellman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Obstructive sleep apnea is a state-dependent disease. One of the key factors that triggers upper airway collapse is decreased pharyngeal dilator muscle activity during sleep. To date, there have not been effective methods to reverse pharyngeal hypotonia pharmacologically in sleeping humans. Objectives: We tested the hypothesis that administration of desipramine 200 mg prevents the state-related reduction in genioglossus activity that occurs during sleep and thereby decreases pharyngeal collapsibility. Methods: We conducted a placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover trial with 10 healthy participants. Participants received active treatment or placebo in randomized order 2 hours before sleep in the physiology laboratory. Measurements and Main Results: Genioglossus activity during wakefulness and sleep, genioglossus muscle responsiveness to negative epiglottic pressure, and upper airway collapsibility during passive and active conditions were compared between on- and off-drug states. Desipramine abolished the normal reduction of genioglossus activity from wakefulness to non-REM sleep that occurred on the placebo night. Specifically, tonic (median, 96% [86-120] vs. 75% [50-92] wakefulness; P = 0.01) but not phasic genioglossus activity was higher with desipramine compared with placebo. Upper airway collapsibility was also reduced with desipramine compared with placebo (-10.0 cmH2O[-15.2 to-5.8] vs.-8.1 cmH2O[-10.4 to-6.3]; P = 0.037). Conclusions: Desipramine reduces the state-related drop in tonic genioglossus muscle activity that occurs from wakefulness to non-REM sleep and reduces airway collapsibility. These data provide a rationale for a new pharmacologic therapy for obstructive sleep apnea.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)878-885
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


  • Norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor
  • Pharmacological treatment
  • Pharyngeal dilator muscle
  • Sleep-disordered breathing


Dive into the research topics of 'Desipramine increases genioglossus activity and reduces upper airway collapsibility during non-REM sleep in healthy subjects'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this