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Scientists use lasers to control mouse brain switchboard
Date:8/14/2014

med in well-rested as well as sleep-deprived mice. Similar to what is seen in humans, sleep deprivation can disrupt the ability of mice to focus and block out external distractions.

Well-rested mice needed just a second or two to find the food whereas sleep-deprived mice took longer, suggesting that lack of sleep had detrimental effects on their ability to focus. When the researchers used flashes of laser light to inhibit the firing of optogenetically engineered visual TRN cells in sleep-deprived mice, the mice found the food faster. In contrast, if they used optogenetics to induce sleep-like firing patterns in well-rested mice, then the mice took longer to find food.

"It's as if with a flick of a switch we could alter the mental states of the mice and either mimic or cure their drowsiness," said Dr. Halassa.

In a parallel set of experiments the researchers found neighbors of the visual TRN cells had very different characteristics. These neighboring cells control the flow of information to the cortex from limbic brain regions, which are involved with memory formation, emotions and arousal. The cells fired very little during sleep and instead were active when the mice were awake. Dr. Halassa thinks that their firing pattern may be important for the strengthening of new memories that often occurs during sleep. Combined, the results suggest that the TRN is divided into sub-networks that oversee discrete mental states. The researchers think understanding the sub-networks is an initial step in thoroughly exploring the role of the TRN in brain disorders.


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Contact: Christopher G. Thomas
thomaschr@ninds.nih.gov
301-496-5751
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Source:Eurekalert  

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