Kevin J. Cummings, Ph.D.

  • CUMMINGS_KevinAssociate Professor
  • PhD: University of Victoria (Prof. Nancy M Sherwood)
  • Postdoctoral Training: University of Calgary (Prof. Richard JA Wilson); La Trobe University (Prof. Peter B Frappell); Dartmouth College (Prof. Eugene E Nattie)


603-727-6146 (mobile)
573-882-0283 (office)
573-882-0133 (lab)

Rm 23, Veterinary Science Building
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Missouri
1600 E. Rollins St
Columbia, MO 65211

Our group is interested in how the central nervous system controls breathing and cardiovascular function during sleep and wakefulness. Specifically, we utilize unanaesthetized whole animal models to investigate the role of serotonin and orexin neurons in sleep apnea and the control of arterial blood pressure and heart rate across states of vigilance. Our ultimate goal is to resolve how defects in the serotonergic and orexinergic systems in the brain make infants susceptible to the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), a leading cause of infant death occurring during periods of sleep and involves cardiorespiratory collapse.

We have a number of projects that are on-going in the lab. First, we are studying the role of serotonin and orexin in the control of breathing and cardiovascular function in infancy, during wakefulness, REM and NREM sleep. Our recent findings indicate that reduced brain stem serotonin leads to apnea, reduced blood pressure and bradycardia, and that the appearance of these phenotypes depends on whether the animal is in REM or non-REM sleep. We are now attempting to resolve the mechanisms responsible for the state-dependency of serotonin’s effects on cardiorespiratory function. Second, we are interested in the role of serotonin in the coordinated cardiovascular, autonomic and respiratory responses to severe hypoxia, a process called “autoresuscitation”. Autoresuscitation normally allows young mammals to survive conditions of oxygen deprivation, and there is evidence that it is defective in SIDS cases. Our lab has shown that infant animals lacking brain stem serotonin have compromised autoresuscitation, and we are currently investigating the underlying mechanisms by which serotonin acts to promote the autonomic and respiratory response to severe hypoxia.  Third, we are exploring the role of orexin (a neuropeptide traditionally known for its role in feeding and keeping us awake) in the control of breathing during sleep. Finally, we are investigating the role of serotonin in blood pressure regulation and, in collaboration with Dr. Craig Emter, the possibility that reduced serotonin in the CNS contributes to heart failure.

We actively collaborate with investigators at the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center. If you are a highly-motivated person who is interested in joining our research team, I encourage you to get in touch with me by phone or email. Thanks for your interest in our research!

Recent publications demonstrating our interests and techniques:

  1. Magnusson, J.L. and Cummings, K.J. 2017. Central serotonin and the control of arterial blood pressure and heart rate in infant rats: influence of sleep state and sex. Am J Physiol Regul Integr and Comp Physiol ajpregu.00321.2017. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00321.2017.
  2. Young, J.O, J., Guerts, A., Hodges, M.R. and Cummings, K.J. 2017. Active sleep unmasks apnea and delayed arousal in infant rat pups lacking central serotonin. J Appl Physiol jap.00439.2017. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00439.2017
  3. Givan, S.A., Cummings, K.J. 2016. Intermittent severe hypoxia and serotonin depletion induce cellular and transcriptomic plasticity in the neonatal rat ventrolateral medulla. J Appl Physiol 120: 1277-87. PMID: 26968026
  4. Magnusson, J., and Cummings, K.J. 2015. Plasticity in breathing and arterial blood pressure following acute intermittent hypercapnic hypoxia in infant rat pups with a partial loss of 5-HT neurons. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 309:R1273-84. PMID:26354844

For a complete list of publications and other information see:

CV Kevin J Cummings