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J Neurosci. 2011 Feb 16;31(7):2649-56. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5674-10.2011.

Endogenous GABA levels in the pontine reticular formation are greater during wakefulness than during rapid eye movement sleep.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Studies using drugs that increase or decrease GABAergic transmission suggest that GABA in the pontine reticular formation (PRF) promotes wakefulness and inhibits rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Cholinergic transmission in the PRF promotes REM sleep, and levels of endogenous acetylcholine (ACh) in the PRF are significantly greater during REM sleep than during wakefulness or non-REM (NREM) sleep. No previous studies have determined whether levels of endogenous GABA in the PRF vary as a function of sleep and wakefulness. This study tested the hypothesis that GABA levels in cat PRF are greatest during wakefulness and lowest during REM sleep. Extracellular GABA levels were measured during wakefulness, NREM sleep, REM sleep, and the REM sleep-like state (REM(Neo)) caused by microinjecting neostigmine into the PRF. GABA levels varied significantly as a function of sleep and wakefulness, and decreased significantly below waking levels during REM sleep (-42%) and REM(Neo) (-63%). The decrease in GABA levels during NREM sleep (22% below waking levels) was not statistically significant. Compared with NREM sleep, GABA levels decreased significantly during REM sleep (-27%) and REM(Neo) (-52%). Comparisons of REM sleep and REM(Neo) revealed no differences in GABA levels or cortical EEG power. GABA levels did not vary significantly as a function of dialysis site within the PRF. The inverse relationship between changes in PRF levels of GABA and ACh during REM sleep indicates that low GABAergic tone combined with high cholinergic tone in the PRF contributes to the generation of REM sleep.

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