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J Neurosci. 2017 Nov 15;37(46):11233-11244. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0578-17.2017. Epub 2017 Oct 23.

Baseline Levels of Rapid Eye Movement Sleep May Protect Against Excessive Activity in Fear-Related Neural Circuitry.

Author information

1
Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey 07102 itamar.lerner@gmail.com shiralupkin@gmail.com.
2
Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey 07102.

Abstract

Sleep, and particularly rapid eye movement sleep (REM), has been implicated in the modulation of neural activity following fear conditioning and extinction in both human and animal studies. It has long been presumed that such effects play a role in the formation and persistence of posttraumatic stress disorder, of which sleep impairments are a core feature. However, to date, few studies have thoroughly examined the potential effects of sleep prior to conditioning on subsequent acquisition of fear learning in humans. Furthermore, these studies have been restricted to analyzing the effects of a single night of sleep-thus assuming a state-like relationship between the two. In the current study, we used long-term mobile sleep monitoring and functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to explore whether trait-like variations in sleep patterns, measured in advance in both male and female participants, predict subsequent patterns of neural activity during fear learning. Our results indicate that higher baseline levels of REM sleep predict reduced fear-related activity in, and connectivity between, the hippocampus, amygdala and ventromedial PFC during conditioning. Additionally, skin conductance responses (SCRs) were weakly correlated to the activity in the amygdala. Conversely, there was no direct correlation between REM sleep and SCRs, indicating that REM may only modulate fear acquisition indirectly. In a follow-up experiment, we show that these results are replicable, though to a lesser extent, when measuring sleep over a single night just before conditioning. As such, baseline sleep parameters may be able to serve as biomarkers for resilience, or lack thereof, to trauma.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Numerous studies over the past two decades have established a clear role of sleep in fear-learning processes. However, previous work has focused on the effects of sleep following fear acquisition, thus neglecting the potential effects of baseline sleep levels on the acquisition itself. The current study provides the first evidence in humans of such an effect. Specifically, the results of this study suggest that baseline rapid eye movement (REM) sleep may serve a protective function against enhanced fear encoding through the modulation of connectivity between the hippocampus, amygdala, and the ventromedial PFC. Building on this finding, baseline REM measurements may serve as a noninvasive biomarker for resilience to trauma or, conversely, to the potential development of posttraumatic stress disorder following trauma.

KEYWORDS:

PTSD; REM sleep; fMRI; fear learning; rapid eye movement sleep; sleep

PMID:
29061703
DOI:
10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0578-17.2017
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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