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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Dec 10;110(50):20272-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1314762110. Epub 2013 Nov 4.

A role for cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons in coupling homeostatic sleep drive to EEG slow wave activity.

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Center for Neuroscience, Biosciences Division, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA 94025.


Although the neural circuitry underlying homeostatic sleep regulation is little understood, cortical neurons immunoreactive for neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and the neurokinin-1 receptor (NK1) have been proposed to be involved in this physiological process. By systematically manipulating the durations of sleep deprivation and subsequent recovery sleep, we show that activation of cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons is directly related to non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep time, NREM bout duration, and EEG δ power during NREM sleep, an index of preexisting homeostatic sleep drive. Conversely, nNOS knockout mice show reduced NREM sleep time, shorter NREM bouts, and decreased power in the low δ range during NREM sleep, despite constitutively elevated sleep drive. Cortical NK1 neurons are still activated in response to sleep deprivation in these mice but, in the absence of nNOS, they are unable to up-regulate NREM δ power appropriately. These findings support the hypothesis that cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons translate homeostatic sleep drive into up-regulation of NREM δ power through an NO-dependent mechanism.


Fos; Nos1; cerebral cortex; interneurons; sleep homeostasis

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