Sleep and biological rhythms

Activation of the ventral tegmental area increased wakefulness in mice.

PMID 28386207


The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is crucial for brain functions, such as voluntary movement and cognition; however, the role of VTA in sleep-wake regulation when directly activated or inhibited remains unknown. In this study, we investigated the effects of activation or inhibition of VTA neurons on sleep-wake behavior using the pharmacogenetic "designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADD)" approach. Immunohistochemistry staining was performed to confirm the microinjection sites, and combined with electrophysiological experiments, to determine whether the VTA neurons were activated or inhibited. The hM3Dq-expressing VTA neurons were excited confirmed by clozapine-N-oxide (CNO)-driven c-Fos expression and firing in patch-clamp recordings; whereas the hM4Di-expressing VTA neurons inhibited by reduction of firing. Compared with controls, the activation of VTA neurons at 9:00 (inactive period) produced a 120.1% increase in the total wakefulness amount for 5 h, whereas NREM and REM sleep were decreased by 62.5 and 92.2%, respectively. Similarly, when VTA neurons were excited at 21:00 (active period), the total wakefulness amount increased 81.5%, while NREM and REM sleep decreased 64.6 and 93.8%, respectively, for 8 h. No difference of the amount and EEG power density of the NREM sleep was observed following the arousal effects of CNO. The inhibition of VTA neurons during active or inactive periods gave rise to no change in the time spent in the wakefulness, REM, and NREM sleep compared with control. The results indicated that VTA neurons activated pharmacogentically played important roles in promoting wakefulness.