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Biol Res. 2007;40(4):471-8. doi: /S0716-97602007000500008. Epub 2008 May 28.

Sleep in brain development.

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Laboratorio de Sueño y Neurobiología Funcional, INTA, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


With the discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, sleep was no longer considered a homogeneous state of passive rest for the brain. On the contrary, sleep, and especially REM sleep, appeared as an active condition of intense cerebral activity. The fact that we get large amounts of sleep in early life suggested that sleep may play a role in brain maturation. This idea has been investigated for many years through a large number of animal and human studies, but evidence remains fragmented. The hypothesis proposed was that REM sleep would provide an endogenous source of activation, possibly critical for structural maturation of the central nervous system. This proposal led to a series of experiments looking at the role of REM sleep in brain development. In particular, the influence of sleep in developing the visual system has been highlighted. More recently, non-REM (NREM) sleep state has become a major focus of attention. The current data underscore the importance of both REM sleep and NREM sleep states in normal synaptic development and lend support to their functional roles in brain maturation. Both sleep states appear to be important for neuronal development, but the corresponding contribution is likely to be different.

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