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The discovery of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep revolutionized the field of sleep research. REM sleep is that state in which most of our dreams occur. During REM sleep, the brain is active, while the body is asleep. These characteristics make REM sleep a unique and a paradoxical state. While we are struggling to understand the function of REM sleep, major advances have been made in understanding the cellular mechanisms responsible for REM-sleep control. In this chapter, we have described two neurochemical substrates involved in REM-sleep regulation. One of them is adenosine and the other is glycine.
Adenosine is implicated to be the homeostatic regulator of sleep. It has been suggested that adenosine acts via A1 receptors to inhibit wake-promoting neurons and promote the transition from wakefulness to sleep. Adenosine acts on multiple wake-promoting systems including the basal forebrain cholinergic and the non-cholinergic systems, namely the orexinergic, and the histaminergic systems. There are reports suggesting that adenosine may act via A2A receptors and activate sleep-promoting neurons of the preoptic region. In addition, studies suggest a direct role of adenosine in the modulation of REM sleep.
During REM sleep, there is a tonic muscle atonia coupled with phasic muscle twitches. This phenomenon is regulated by the dorsolateral pons and ventromedial medulla along with local neurons within the spinal cord. Glycinergic mechanisms are responsible for the control of muscle tone during REM sleep. However, the exact role is under debate.
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