University of Nebraska Medical Center

Peng Zhong, PhD, Lab

Insufficient sleep can have devastating health consequences. Disrupted sleep is a common symptom in multiple neuropsychiatric illness, including anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. It is also comorbid with Alzheimer’s disease and sleep disruption thought to contribute to disease progression. My research program aims to unravel the neural underpinnings of causal relationship between sleep disturbance and these brain disorders with the ultimate goal of learning how to repair the diseased nervous systems. Taking advantage of multiple state-of-the-art techniques (e.g., gene profiling, virus-mediated circuit tracing, in vivo calcium imaging/optrode recording, fiber photometry, slice patch clamp recording, optogenetic/chemogenetic manipulation and gene manipulation), we take a multifaceted but integrated experimental approach for interrogating the neural circuits controlling sleep and studying the pathophysiology of sleep circuits in the generation of sleep disorders and neuropsychiatric/neurodegenerative disorders.

Actively recruiting postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. Please contact if you are interested in joining in us.

Dr. Zhong's Publications.
Contact Dr. Zhong

Current Studies 

Neural circuits controlling sleep

Sleep is tightly controlled by a complex neural network. However, the underlying neural circuits are only partially understood. Using high-throughput sequencing approaches, we anatomically target sleep neurons and identify their specific molecular markers. Using bidirectional optogenetic/chemogenetic manipulation, we test whether candidate neurons expressing these markers can promote sleep.

Sleep and Alzheimer’s disease (AD)

The neural mechanisms underlying the association between sleep and AD remain poorly understood. In this line of investigation, we test whether and how sleep control neurons become dysfunctional in the tauopathy condition of AD. Accordingly, using in vivo microendoscopic calcium imaging, slice patch clamp recording and PS19 mouse model of tauopathy, we will determine whether and how tau pathology affects the firing patterns of sleep neurons across the sleep-wake cycles. Using optogenetic/chemogenetic approaches, we further determine whether manipulation of their neuronal activities improves sleep quality and enhances cognitive performance.

REM sleep and depression

REM sleep is associated with vivid dreaming and functions to maintain affective brain homeostasis and support emotional functioning. Disturbances in REM sleep have been considered as important biological markers of depression. Using chronic mild unpredictable stress (CMS) as a mouse model of depression, we determine whether chronic stress causes REM sleep disturbance and study whether and how it affects the firing patterns of REM-active neurons across sleep-wake cycles.

Experimental Approaches Used in the Lab

  • Virus-mediated circuit tracing
  • In vivo microendoscopic calcium imaging/optrode recording
  • Fiber photometry
  • Slice patch clamp recording
  • Optogenetic/chemogenetic manipulation
  • EEG/EMG recording
  • Gene profiling
  • Mouse behavior

Lab Members

Dequan Jiang

Research Technologist I