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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 1999 May;23(5):635-48.

Adaptations and pathologies linked to dynamic stabilization of neural circuitry.

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University of California (UCLA), Department of Biology, Los Angeles 90095-1606, USA.


Brain circuits for infrequently employed memories are reinforced largely during sleep by self-induced, electrical slow-waves, a process referred to as "dynamic stabilization" (DS). The essence of waking brain function in the absence of volitional activity is sensory input processing, an enormous amount of which is visual. These two functions: circuit reinforcement by DS and sensory information processing come into conflict when both occur at a high level, a conflict that may have been the selective pressure for sleep's origin. As brain waves are absent at the low temperatures of deep torpor, essential circuitry of hibernating small mammals would lose its competence if the animals did not warm up periodically to temperatures allowing sleep and circuit reinforcement. Blind, cave-dwelling vertebrates require no sleep because their sensory processing does not interfere with DS. Nor does such interference arise in continuously-swimming fishes, whose need to process visual information is reduced greatly by life in visually relatively featureless, pelagic habitats, and by schooling. Dreams are believed to have their origin in DS of memory circuits. They are thought to have illusory content when the circuits are partially degraded (incompetent), with synaptic efficacies weakened through infrequent use. Partially degraded circuits arise normally in the course of synaptic efficacy decay, or pathologically through abnormal regimens of DS. Organic delirium may result from breakdown of normal regimens of DS of circuitry during sleep, leaving many circuits incompetent. Activation of incompetent circuits during wakefulness apparently produces delirium and hallucinations. Some epileptic seizures may be induced by abnormal regimens of DS of motor circuitry. Regimens of remedial DS during seizures induced by electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) apparently produce temporary remission of delirium by restoring functional or 'dedicated' synaptic efficacies in incompetent circuitry. Sparing of sensory circuitry in fatal familial insomnia seemingly owes to supernormal circuit use in the virtual absence of sleep. ECT shocks and cardioverter defibrillation may have analogous remedial influences.

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