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This chapter reviews the functional brain imaging studies, using positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that have examined neural activity patterns between non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and wakefulness, and within NREM sleep in association with phasic neuronal oscillations. It explores recent fMRI data investigating the relationship between these rhythms and the processing of external stimulation during sleep. In order to further explore this relationship between external stimulation and NREM sleep phasic activity, brain responses to pure tones delivered during NREM sleep were evaluated in a recent event-related fMRI study. In the fMRI study, the relationship between auditory stimulation and slow waves was also explored. It is well known that external stimulation during NREM sleep can trigger a slow wave on electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings: such evoked slow waves, especially during stage N2, are also termed K-complexes.
This chapter focuses on two recent studies capitalizing on inter-individual differences in response to increased sleep homeostasis and misalignment between the circadian signal and sleep to better characterize the brain mechanisms involved in the maintenance of wakefulness and associated cognitive processes. Extreme chronotypes are characterized by marked differences in their preferred timing for sleep and wakefulness, as well as optimal times of day to perform cognitively demanding tasks. A study detailed in the chapter used a genetic trait as a means to characterize the regulation of cognitive performance throughout a normal waking day and following total sleep deprivation. A variable-number-of-tandem-repeat (VNTR) polymorphism in the coding region of the clock gene PERIOD3 (PER3) was reported to present a weak association with chronotype. According to a recent model of cognition, the VLPFC plays a key role in higher cognitive control and is involved in complex neurobehavioral processes.
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