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A Motor Theory of Sleep-Wake Control: Arousal-Action Circuit


Wakefulness, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep are characterized by distinct electroencephalogram (EEG), electromyogram (EMG), and autonomic profiles. The circuit mechanism coordinating these changes during sleep-wake transitions remains poorly understood. The past few years have witnessed rapid progress in the identification of REM and NREM sleep neurons, which constitute highly distributed networks spanning the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. Here we propose an arousal-action circuit for sleep-wake control in which wakefulness is supported by separate arousal and action neurons, while REM and NREM sleep neurons are part of the central somatic and autonomic motor circuits. This model is well supported by the currently known sleep and wake neurons. It can also account for the EEG, EMG, and autonomic profiles of wake, REM, and NREM states and several key features of their transitions. The intimate association between the sleep and autonomic/somatic motor control circuits suggests that a primary function of sleep is to suppress motor activity.

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