Friday, October 3, 2014

A Natural Structural Alternative to Sedatives

News Brief by Samantha Fine

A second “sleep node” that produces deep sleep has been discovered in the mammalian brain. Researchers at Harvard School of Medicine and the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences located the sleep promoting circuit in the primitive brainstem, specifically in the parafacial zone (PZ), an area of the brainstem that is responsible for half the brain’s sleep-promoting activity.

The researchers were able to isolate the deep sleep area by creating a virus in the PZ that would express specific types of neurons that could be precisely controlled. When the virus was injected into animals and the specific neurons were activated, the animals immediately fell into a deep sleep. Before the use of designer genes, electrical stimulation was more commonly used to activate the brain; however, this method usually stimulates everything in the brain. Using a molecular approach to control brain function has allowed researchers to precisely pinpoint parts of the brain responsible for various functions.

The discovery of the second “sleep node” could translate into better treatments for sleep disorders, such as insomnia as well as developing stronger and safer anesthetics. Fundamental questions of brain function such as the ‘why’ of sleep can perhaps be answered in the near future; however more research is necessary to discover how other specific neurons interact in the brain with other sleep-promoting regions. 


University at Buffalo. "No sedative necessary: Scientists discover new 'sleep node' in the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2014. .

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