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Sleep Med Rev. 2001 Feb;5(1):63-77.

Brain structures and mechanisms involved in the generation of REM sleep.

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Departamento de Morfologi;a, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid, 28029, Spain


This article reviews the central nervous mechanisms involved in the broad network that generates and maintains REM sleep. Experimental investigations have identified the pontine tegmentum as the critical substrate for REM sleep mechanisms. Several pontine structures are involved in the generation of each particular polygraphic event that characterizes REM sleep: desynchronization in the electroencephalogram, theta rhythm in the hippocampus, muscle atonia, pontogeniculooccipital waves and rapid eye movements. The pontine tegmentum also holds the region where cholinergic stimulation can trigger all the behavioural and bioelectric signs of REM sleep. The exact location has been investigated and amply discussed over the last few years. Studies in the authors>> laboratory, mapping the pontine tegmentum with small volume carbachol (a cholinergic agonist) microinjections, have demonstrated that the executive neurons for REM sleep generation are neither located in the dorsal part of the pontine tegmentum, nor diffusely spread through the medial pontine reticular formation: they are concentrated in a discrete area in the ventral part of the oral pontine reticular nucleus (vRPO). In turn, the vRPO has connections with structures involved in the generation of the other states of the sleep-wake cycle as well as with structures responsible for the generation of each of the different events characterizing REM sleep. This allows us to propose the vRPO as the crucial region for REM sleep generation. Related research, with invivo and invitro experiments, into the actions of different neurotransmitters on vRPO neurones indicates that not only acetylcholine but other neurotransmitters have an active key role in vRPO REM sleep generation mechanisms.

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