Tongue Anatomy and Physiology, the Scientific Basis for a Novel Targeted Neurostimulation System Designed for the Treatment of Obstructive Sleep Apnea


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  • Financial Support: Imthera Medical provided all financial support for this study.

  • Conflict of Interest: Dr. Faisal Zaidi and Mr. Paul Meadows are employees of Imthera Medical, Inc., and are authors on certain in-process patents of Imthera Medical, Inc. Dr. Terence Davidson is an advisor in a role of part time chief medical officer of Imthera Medical, Inc., and has stock options. Dr. Ofer Jacobowitz has no conflicts of interest.

Faisal N. Zaidi, PhD, Director Research, Imthera Medical, Inc., 12555 High Bluff Dr., San Diego, CA 92130, USA. Email:


Introduction:  Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a chronic condition that affects millions adults. The effective standard treatment is positive airway pressure (PAP). However, approximately half of the patients that are prescribed PAP are unable or unwilling to comply with this therapy. Untreated OSA ultimately leads to very serious comorbidities. An alternative therapy for this patient population, therefore, is desirable. Hypoglossal nerve (HGN) stimulation is under investigation by multiple groups as a possible alternative therapy for OSA.

Objective:  To understand the underlying mechanisms of actions related to HGN stimulation, and the implication of this knowledge for specifying and designing a neurostimulation system for the treatment of OSA.

Results:  Loss of lingual and pharyngeal tone within a narrow airway is the primary mechanism for OSA. Posterior and anterior tongues are different in their anatomy and physiology. Muscle fibers in the posterior tongue are predominantly fatigue resistant that are responsible for the long sustained tonic activities required for maintaining the tongue's position and preventing its mass from falling into the retroglossal airway. The human tongue is a muscular hydrostat and hence would benefit from a sophisticated HGN stimulation system that is capable of achieving a concerted spatio-temporal interplay of multiple lingual muscles, including retrusors.

Conclusion:  Targeted neurostimulation of the proximal HGN presents as a viable system approach that is far more versatile and physiologic and quite different than prior systems.