Miss Irma Gvilia is an internationally published Georgian neuroscientist, community leader, and dedicated patriot of her country. She enjoys balancing her professional and personal life between being a woman in STEM, a mother, a globe-trotter, and a gym enthusiast.
Her professional career spans over 25 years and 4 continents and, in addition to medical research, has seen her organize 10 international symposiums across 7 countries, teach and mentor students at the post-graduate level, and work in a government advisory committee on national education reform. Throughout her time as Professor of Neurophysiology at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, a Principal Investigator at VAGLAH, and UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, Dr. Gvilia has maintained contacts and active collaboration with colleagues worldwide. She is a recipient of highly prestigious fellowships and awards from European and American research organizations. Yet, out of all these accomplishments, she is most proud of her two girls.
Dr. Gvilia was born and raised in the Republic of Georgia, a heritage she is immensely proud of. She completed her joint bachelor’s and master’s degree in Biology with Honors at Tbilisi State University in 1991 and her Ph.D. in Biology at Beritashvili Institute of Physiology in 1995.
Dr. Gvilia’s professional field and passion for patriotism crossed paths in 2013, when she led an exemplary professional conference in Kazbegi, Georgia – the first of its kind in the country – where she made sure that the 85+ participants from 23 countries spent most of their leisure time celebrating the rich culture, cuisine and beauty of Georgia. After a wonderful 6 days, they all left finally realizing what their Georgian colleague had been ranting about all these years.

Scientific interests / research interests

The long-term goals of my research program are to identify and characterize, at the systems level, cell types, anatomical connectivity and neurochemical mechanisms that function to regulate sleep, and to recognize neuro-regulatory control points in these systems that might underlie sleep disturbance in psychiatric and neurological disorders during both childhood/adolescence and adulthood.

One of my current research work directions is focused on a fundamental unanswered question in sleep neurobiology – what brain mechanisms govern the development of sleep homeostasis? This knowledge is critical for identifying the causes of and developing strategies to treat sleep dysregulation in childhood and adolescence, a growing public health problem that has adverse effects on mood, cognition, social behavior, and physical health.

The other topic, which I currently lead, is directed towards determining fundamental mechanisms and circuits that might underlie the negative impact of stress-related release of corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) on the homeostatic regulation of sleep, with the goal of identifying critical regulatory nodes that can be targeted for therapy. Insomnia and insufficient sleep are common in psychiatric disorders that are associated with and/or exacerbated by physiological or psychological stress. Chronic sleep disturbance can contribute to maladaptive stress and may be a modifiable risk factor for poor psychiatric outcomes in PTSD, depression and other disorders.

Featured publications

  1. Gvilia I., Angara, C., McGinty, D and Szymusiak R. (2005) Different neuronal populations of the at median preoptic nucleus express c-fos during sleep and in response to hypertonic saline. Journal of Physiology, 569(2): 587-599.
  2. Gvilia I., Turner, A., McGinty, D., Szymusiak R. (2006) Preoptic area neurons and the homeostatic regulation of rapid eye movement sleep. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(11): 3037-3044.
  3. Gvilia I., Xu F., McGinty, D and Szymusiak R. (2006) Homeostatic regulation of sleep: a role for preoptic area neurons. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(37): 9426-33.

Overall Contribution to Science: (1) Provided the first evidence that the population of median preoptic nucleus neurons, which is activated during sleep, is different from neurons activated in response to osmotic and hormonal stimuli; (2) Provided the first evidence that a subset of preoptic area neurons constitutes part of the forebrain circuitry involved in the homeostatic regulation of REM sleep; (3) Provided the first evidence that GABAergic sleep-regulatory neurons in the preoptic hypothalamus area involved in the regulation of sleep homeostasis.

  1. Gvilia, I., Suntsova N., Angara B., McGinty D and Szymusiak R. (2011) Maturation of sleep homeostasis in developing rats: a role for preoptic area neurons. American Journal of Physiology, 300(4):R885-94.
  2. Gvilia, I., Suntsova N., Kostin, A., Kalinchuk A., McGinty D., Basheer R and Szymusiak R. (2017) The Role of Adenosine in the Maturation of Sleep Homeostasis in Rats. The Journal of Neurophysiology, 117(1):327-335

Contribution to Science: (4) Provided the first evidence that early post-weaning in the rat is characterized by significant maturational changes in the homeostatic sleep regulation, and these changes are associated with functional emergence of the Hypothalamic sleep-regulatory neuronal systems. (5) Provided the first evidence on a potential mechanistic role of adenosine signaling in the brain and related activation of key sleep-regulatory neuronal groups (identified in the adult brain) in normal development of sleep homeostasis.

Significance the last publication (Gvilia et al 2017) has been acknowledged by The American Physiological Society Award – it is selected among the best recently published articles in physiological society (

  1. Gvilia, I., Suntsova N., Kumar, S., McGinty D and Szymusiak R. Suppression of Preoptic Sleep regulatory Neuronal Activity During Corticotropin Releasing Factor-induced Sleep Disturbance. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 309: R1092–R1100, 2015.

Contribution to Science: (6) Provided the first evidence on the negative effect of stress-induced increases in CRF signaling in the brain on (i) the homeostatic regulation of sleep and (ii) the activity of sleep-promoting neurons in the MnPO and VLPO.


Book Chapters

  1. Darchia, N and Gvilia, I. Insomnia: Introduction. In: Sleep – Physiology, Investigations and Medicine, ed. by Michel Billiard, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2003 Chapter 14 (pp. 187-90).
  2. Gvilia, I Underlying Brain Mechanisms that Regulate Sleep-Wakefulness Cycles. In: International Review of Neurobiology, ed by Angela Clow and Lisa Thorn, Elsevier, 2010 Chapter 1 (pp. 1-21).
  3. Gvilia, I and Szymusiak R. Regulation of nonREM Sleep: Interactions Among Sleep-Active Neurons in the preoptic hypothalamus. In: Current Advances in Sleep Biology, ed. by Markos G. Frank, Nova Medical, 2010 Chapter 2 (pp. 3-13).
  4. Szymusiak R and Gvilia I. Neurophysiology and Neurochemistry of Hypersomnia. In: Sleep Medicine Clinics: Hypersomnia, ed by Alon Y. Avidan, 2012.
  5. Gvilia, I and Szymusiak R. Basic Neurobiology of Arousal and Sleep. In: Sleep Medicine and Psychiatric Illness, edited by John Herman and Max Hirshkowitz, 2015.

An extensive list of publications

Complete list of published work in my bibliography:


Current Courses

Course Catalog

Doctoral Program, designed and taught:

  • Neurobiology of Functional Systems (6 credits, 32 contact hours)
  • Neurobiology of Sleep: Recent Findings (6 credits, 32 contact hours)
  • Professional Development and Integration into Neuroscience (6 credits, 32 contact hours)

Master’s Program, designed and taught:

  • The Limbic System: Anatomy and Functions (6 credits, 35 contact hours)
  • Neurobiology of Sleep and Wakefulness (12 credits, 62 contact hours)
  • Human Sleep, Aging and Sleep (6 credits, 32 contact hours)

Bachelor’s Program, designed and taught:

  • Human Organism and Health (6 credits, 30 contact hours)

Same as above

(1) External Reviewer for more than 10 Professional Journals  2000 – present

(2) Selected Committee Served as a key member

  • Governmental Committee of Reforms in Education and Science (in Georgia) 2008-2009
  • American Sleep Res. Society Educational Program Committee 2012 – 2014

(3) Recent Professional Trainings:

  • of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, VA Boston (PI, Radhika Basheer) 2012.
  • of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University (PI, Luis De Lecea) 2015

(3) Recent Symposiums at International Professional Conferences in Europe, Asia and the USA:

  • Sleep and Brain Maturation: Development of Sleep-Regulatory Mechanisms and Interactions between Sleep and Brain Maturation,“ the 27th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies “SLEEP 2013”, 2013, Baltimore, MD. Role: The Chair and a Speaker.
  • Critical Periods in Sleep Development,” International Sleep Training Summer School “Kazbegi 2013”, 2013, Tbilisi, Georgia. Role: The Chair and a Speaker;
  • Sleep and Childhood Brain Development: Unraveling the Link, “ Arrowhead Sleep Training Workshop, 2013, CA, USA. Role: The Chair and a Speaker;
  • Hypothalamic Regulation of Sleep: Recent Findings” International Sleep Training Summer School: “Advancing the Understanding of Basics of Sleep Science and Sleep Medicine”, 2014, Chakvi, Georgia. Role: Invited Speaker
  • “Hypothalamic Regulation of Sleep”, 2014, University of Helsinki, Biomedicum Helsinki 1. Role: Invited Speaker
  • Sleep and Brain Maturation: Development of Sleep-Regulatory Mechanisms and Interactions between Sleep and Brain Maturation”, 2014, the 22d Congress of the European Sleep Research Society, Tallinn, Estonia. Role: The Chair and a Speaker
  • Sleep Loss:  A Biochemical dialogue within brain ,“ ASRS 2014, the 8th Congress of the Asian Sleep Research Society, 2014, Kovalam, Kerala, India. Role: Invited Speaker
  • “Sleep regulating neurons: new insights across phylogeny,” the 29th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies – “SLEEP 2015,” 2015, Seattle, Washington. Role: Invited Speaker
  • ” Consequences of sleep loss in brain: from birth to aging,” the ESRS 2016, the 23d Congress of the European Sleep Research Society, 2016, Bologna, Italy. The Role: Invited Speaker

 (4) Program Director and Organizer of  International Sleep Training Summer School – “Kazbegi 2013”

(5) Research and Educational Grants (National and International):

  • Collaborative Research Grant funded by Georgian National Science Foundation, (GNSF/ST07/6-219, 2007 – 2009). Role – Principal Investigator
  • Research Grant funded by Georgian National Science Foundation, (GNSF/ST07/6-237, 2007 – 2010). Role – co-PI
  • Collaborative Research Grant funded by Georgian National Science Foundation (GNSF/ST09/6-274, 2010 – 2011). Role – Principal Investigator
  • SCOPES (Swiss National Science Foundation) Educational Grant: “Knowledge Based Partnership for Development of Sleep Medicine Research Platform and Promotion of Sleep Science in Georgia”, 2011-2014. Role – Scientific Manager of the Project
  • IBRO (International Brain Research Organization) Conference Grant for organizing A Sleep Training Workshop via European Neuroscience Program, 2013. Role – Program Director and Organizer of the Workshop

Collaborative Research Grant funded by Georgian National Science Foundation (GNSF, 2013-2016). Role – Principal Investigator