Secret of Sound Sleep

Insufficient sleep is quite common these days. To get rid of sleeplessness, often, we use sedatives regularly, which ultimately lead to dependency. Now, neuroscientists have discovered a sleep-promoting circuit located deep within the brain, which may help them to develop novel ways to help sleep deprived people to have a sound sleep at night.

The study was conducted in recent times by the neuroscientists at Harvard School of Medicine and University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The researchers say that this is in fact the second “sleep node”, identified in the mammalian brain, whose activity appears to be both necessary and sufficient to produce deep sleep. The study also demonstrates that fully half of all of the brain’s sleep-promoting activity originates from the parafacial zone (PZ) in the brainstem, which is a primordial part of the brain regulating basic functions essential for survival, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

To demonstrate the sleep node’s function, the researchers used some molecular tools to activate neurons in PZ region of the brain. They found that test animals quickly fall into deep sleep after activation of the neurones in PZ region. They found that a specific type of neuron in the PZ, which produces the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is responsible for deep sleep. To test these findings, they introduced a genetically engineered virus into PZ region that expressed a receptor on GABA neurons only, without altering other brain functions. When the scientists turned on the GABA neurons in the PZ, the animals quickly fell into a deep sleep without the use of sedatives or other sleep aids. How these neurons interact in the brain with other sleep and wake-promoting brain regions are still unclear and need to be studied, the researchers say, but eventually these findings may translate into new medications for treating sleep disorders, including insomnia, and the development of better and safer anaesthetics.

Now neuroscientists are able to solve the fundamental mysteries of brain function, which have so far been remained as a big question mark.

Journal Reference:

  1. Christelle Anaclet, Loris Ferrari, Elda Arrigoni, Caroline E Bass, Clifford B Saper, Jun Lu, Patrick M Fuller. The GABAergic parafacial zone is a medullary slow wave sleep–promoting centerNature Neuroscience, 2014; 17 (9): 1217 DOI:10.1038/nn.3789


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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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