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J Neurogenet. 2013 Jun;27(1-2):23-42. doi: 10.3109/01677063.2013.791692. Epub 2013 May 23.

Lessons from sleeping flies: insights from Drosophila melanogaster on the neuronal circuitry and importance of sleep.

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Behavioural Neurogenetics Laboratory, Evolutionary and Organismal Biology Unit, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore 560064, India.


Sleep is a highly conserved behavior whose role is as yet unknown, although it is widely acknowledged as being important. Here we provide an overview of many vital questions regarding this behavior, that have been addressed in recent years using the genetically tractable model organism Drosophila melanogaster in several laboratories around the world. Rest in D. melanogaster has been compared to mammalian sleep and its homeostatic and circadian regulation have been shown to be controlled by intricate neuronal circuitry involving circadian clock neurons, mushroom bodies, and pars intercerebralis, although their exact roles are not entirely clear. We draw attention to the yet unanswered questions and contradictions regarding the nature of the interactions between the brain regions implicated in the control of sleep. Dopamine, octopamine, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and serotonin are the chief neurotransmitters identified as functioning in different limbs of this circuit, either promoting arousal or sleep by modulating membrane excitability of underlying neurons. Some studies have suggested that certain brain areas may contribute towards both sleep and arousal depending on activation of specific subsets of neurons. Signaling pathways implicated in the sleep circuit include cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and epidermal growth factor receptor-extracellular signal-regulated kinase (EGFR-ERK) signaling pathways that operate on different neural substrates. Thus, this field of research appears to be on the cusp of many new and exciting findings that may eventually help in understanding how this complex physiological phenomenon is modulated by various neuronal circuits in the brain. Finally, some efforts to approach the "Holy Grail" of why we sleep have been summarized.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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