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Neuroscience. 2011 Aug 11;188:55-67. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.05.016. Epub 2011 May 17.

c-Fos expression in neurons projecting from the preoptic and lateral hypothalamic areas to the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray in relation to sleep states.

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Research Service, V.A. Greater Los Angeles, CA 91343, USA.


The ventrolateral division of the periaqueductal gray (vlPAG) and the adjacent deep mesencephalic reticular nucleus have been implicated in the control of sleep. The preoptic hypothalamus, which contains populations of sleep-active neurons, is an important source of afferents to the vlPAG. The perifornical lateral hypothalamus (LH) contains populations of wake-active neurons and also projects strongly to the vlPAG. We examined nonREM and REM sleep-dependent expression of c-Fos protein in preoptic-vlPAG and LH-vlPAG projection neurons identified by retrograde labeling with Fluorogold (FG). Separate groups of rats (n=5) were subjected to 3 h total sleep deprivation (TSD) followed by 1 h recovery sleep (RS), or to 3 h of selective REM sleep deprivation (RSD) followed by RS. A third group of rats (n=5) was subjected to TSD without opportunity for RS (awake group). In the median preoptic nucleus (MnPN), the percentage of FG+ neurons that were also Fos+ was higher in TSD-RS animals compared to both RSD-RS rats and awake rats. There were significant correlations between time spent in deep nonREM sleep during the 1 h prior to sacrifice across groups and the percentage of double-labeled cells in MnPN and ventrolateral preoptic area (VLPO). There were no significant correlations between percentage of double-labeled neurons and time spent in REM sleep for any of the preoptic nuclei examined. In the LH, percentage of double-labeled neurons was highest in awake rats, intermediate in TSD-RS rats and lowest in the RSD-RS group. These results suggest that neurons projecting from MnPN and VLPO to the vlPAG are activated during nonREM sleep and support the hypothesis that preoptic neurons provide inhibitory input to vlPAG during sleep. Suppression of excitatory input to the vlPAG from the LH during sleep may have a permissive effect on REM sleep generation.

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