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Int Rev Neurobiol. 2011;99:213-44. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-387003-2.00009-4.

From genetics to structure to function: exploring sleep in Drosophila.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin, 6001 Research Park Blvd.Madison, WI 53719, USA.


Sleep consists of quiescent periods with reduced responsiveness to external stimuli. Despite being maladaptive in that when asleep, animals are less able to respond to dangerous stimuli; sleep behavior is conserved in all animal species studied to date. Thus, sleep must be performing at least one fundamental, conserved function that is necessary, and/or whose benefits outweigh its maladaptive consequences. Currently, there is no consensus on what that function might be. Over the last 10 years, multiple groups have started to characterize the molecular mechanisms and brain structures necessary for normal sleep in Drosophila melanogaster. These researchers are exploiting genetic tools developed in Drosophila over the past century to identify and manipulate gene expression. Forward genetic screens can identify molecular components in complex biological systems and once identified, these genes can be manipulated within specific brain areas to determine which neuronal groups are important to initiate and maintain sleep. Screening for mutations and brain regions necessary for normal sleep has revealed that several genes that affect sleep are involved in synaptic plasticity and have preferential expression in the mushroom bodies (MBs). Moreover, altering MB neuronal activity alters sleep. Previous genetic screens found that the same genes enriched in MB are necessary for learning and memory. Increasing evidence in mammals, including humans, points to a beneficial role for sleep in synaptic plasticity, learning and memory. Thus, results from both flies and mammals suggest a strong link between sleep need and wake plasticity.

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