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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Feb;22(2):426-35. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr121. Epub 2011 Jun 13.

Noradrenergic neurons of the locus coeruleus are phase locked to cortical up-down states during sleep.

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  • 1Department of Physiology of Cognitive Processes, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Nonrapid eye movement (NREM) sleep is characterized by periodic changes in cortical excitability that are reflected in the electroencephalography (EEG) as high-amplitude slow oscillations, indicative of cortical Up/Down states. These slow oscillations are thought to be involved in NREM sleep-dependent memory consolidation. Although the locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic system is known to play a role in off-line memory consolidation (that may occur during NREM sleep), cortico-coerulear interactions during NREM sleep have not yet been studied in detail. Here, we investigated the timing of LC spikes as a function of sleep-associated slow oscillations. Cortical EEG was monitored, along with activity of LC neurons recorded extracellularly, in nonanesthetized naturally sleeping rats. LC spike-triggered averaging of EEG, together with phase-locking analysis, revealed preferential firing of LC neurons along the ascending edge of the EEG slow oscillation, correlating with Down-to-Up state transition. LC neurons were locked best when spikes were shifted forward ∼50 ms in time with respect to the EEG slow oscillation. These results suggest that during NREM sleep, firing of LC neurons may contribute to the rising phase of the EEG slow wave by providing a neuromodulatory input that increases cortical excitability, thereby promoting plasticity within these circuits.

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