How do our brains control when we go to sleep and when we wake up? Previous studies have tried to answer this question, but, despite years of research, our understanding of this process is incomplete. Therefore, the goal of this study was to identify the elusive mechanisms underlying the control of sleep.
Who were the researchers and what did they do?
Dr. Ueda and colleagues at the University of Tokyo constructed a computer model (called computational modeling) of a neuron (a type of cell in the brain) during sleep to predict what pathway(s) might be responsible for sleep regulation. They then manipulated the proposed pathway in mice to test if the computer model was correct. Dr. Ueda and colleagues employed cutting-edge techniques to either remove the proposed pathway gene products from mice using genetic engineering (called knockout mice), or block the proposed pathway gene products using drugs (called pharmacologic inhibition). The authors then measured how these experimental manipulations of the proposed pathway in mice impacted sleep.
What were the results of the study?
This study revealed that the proposed pathway from the computational model does indeed control sleep duration in mice. Seven genes involved in the pathway emerged as having effects on sleep duration, out of a total 21 examined. The identified genes are involved in the regulation of a calcium-dependent pathway in neurons. Interestingly, changes in this calcium-dependent pathway can increase or decrease sleep duration.
What are the authors’ conclusions?
The authors conclude that this calcium-dependent pathway helps to regulate sleep duration. Future research in this pathway may help uncover the “missing switch between sleep/wake cycles.” This crucial research will lead to a better understanding of normal sleep function, in addition to associated sleep and psychiatric disorders.
Tatsuki F, Sunagawa GA, Shi S, et al. Involvement of Ca(2+)-dependent hyperpolarization in sleep duration in mammals. Neuron. 2016;90(1):70-85.
A video overview of this research is available from the authors at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4NrSa1R4mU
Learn about the latest hypersomnia research on June 12th at the Hypersomnia Foundation’s regional conference, Beyond Sleepy in the Mile High City. Scientists will share findings from their recently completed clinical trials and other ongoing studies, lead us on a journey through the drug discovery and approval process, and help us to cope with the daily struggles of hypersomnia. You will also learn how your future participation in the registry can help to solve the puzzle of hypersomnia.
Order your $25 ticket on line to join us in person in Denver or wait until June 1 to sign up for a live Internet stream of the conference, brought to you free of charge through the generous support of Balance Therapeutics, Inc., and Flamel Technologies, SA.