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Chronobiol Int. 2006;23(1-2):63-70.

Hypocretins: the timing of sleep and waking.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany.


The appropriate time and place for sleep and waking are important factors for survival. Sleep and waking, rest and activity, flight and fight, feeding, and reproduction are all organized in relation to the day and night. A biological clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), synchronized by photic influences and other environmental cues, provides an endogenous timing signal that entrains circadian body rhythms and is complemented by a homeostatic sleep pressure factor. Cholinergic, catecholaminergic, serotonergic, and histaminergic nuclei control wakefulness and mutually interact with the SCN as well as sleep- and wake-promoting neurons in the hypothalamus to form a bistable switch that controls the timing of behavioral state transitions. Hypocretin neurons integrate circadian-photic and nutritional-metabolic influences and act as a conductor in the aminergic orchestra. Their loss causes narcolepsy, a disease conferring the inability to separate sleep and waking. Their role in appetitive behavior, stress, and memory functions is important to our understanding of addiction and compulsion.

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