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SRI International Scientists Discover Brain Circuit Activated during Sleep
Date:12/10/2013

MENLO PARK, Calif., Dec. 10, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Neuroscientists at SRI International have discovered a brain circuit that appears to be related to the restorative function of sleep. The findings point to a biochemical and physiological explanation of how sleep need, which gradually builds up during wakefulness, is dissipated during sleep.

"We all know sleep is important for restoration in some way, but scientists have yet to define what actually needs to be restored or how the restoration occurs," said the study leader, Thomas Kilduff, Ph.D., who directs the Center for Neuroscience within SRI Biosciences. "We have found a group of cells in the cerebral cortex that appear to orchestrate the slow waves that occur during sleep, which have been linked to sleep restoration."

The research, published in the December 10 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), identifies specific brain cells that are activated during the deep stages of sleep known as slow wave sleep, and identifies the chemical responsible as nitric oxide. The long-term implications of these findings include nitric oxide as a potential target for medications that help facilitate slow wave sleep in conditions where it is diminished, such as aging.

Sleep researchers have long sought to understand why we become sleepy and how sleep restores mental and physical performance. "One clue to sleepiness is that the recovery process during sleep seems to be related to brain slow wave activity, which is high when we first fall asleep and declines through the night," said Kilduff. "When we stay awake for a longer period of time, once we fall asleep, the slow waves are larger in size and more intense."

Sleep stages are identified by electroencephalography
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