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Support cells, not neurons, lull the brain to sleep
Date:1/28/2009

n shown to influence behavior. Unlike neurons, astrocytes do not fire electrical spikes, and they are often described as support cells.

In experiments on mice, Dr. Halassa and his colleagues used a genetic switch, called the dnSNARE transgene, to block the release of adenosine and other chemicals from astrocytes. The researchers then deprived the mice of sleep for short periods, and evaluated them with behavioral tests and with electroencephalography (EEG), a means of recording brain activity.

Mice subjected to the genetic blockade exhibited less sleep pressure than control mice. Following sleep deprivation, they did not need as much compensatory sleep, and during the early phases of sleep, they had patterns of brain activity consistent with low sleep pressure. When they were evaluated with a memory test, they performed as if their sleep had been undisturbed.

The researchers observed similar results when they used certain compounds to block the effects of adenosine on neurons. Neurons have several types of cell-surface receptors that enable them to respond to adenosine, but only pharmacological blockade of the A1 type of receptor was effective. That result shows that adenosine acts through the A1 receptor to produce sleep pressure.

Taken together, the results hint at the possibility of new drugs that could increase or decrease sleep pressure as necessary. The best available sleep aids tend to be effective at inducing sleep, but not effective at keeping it steady throughout the night. Meanwhile, the most commonly used stimulant, caffeine, acts on multiple types of adenosine receptors, and can affect sleep patterns even when it is consumed in the morning. Drugs that target astrocytes or the A1 receptors on neurons might be more effective at fine-tuning the urge to sleep, the study authors say.

The dnSNARE mice also will prove useful for answering some long-standing questions about sleep, experts say. For instanc
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Contact: Daniel Stimson
stimsond@ninds.nih.gov
301-496-5751
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Source:Eurekalert

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