Brain Molecular Activity Linked to Sleep

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September 21, 2010

Washington State University researchers have discovered the mechanism by which the brain switches from a wakeful to a sleeping state. The finding could clear the way for other discoveries that could improve sleep aids and treatment for strokes and other brain injuries. The researchers documented how ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the fundamental energy currency of cells, is released by active brain cells to start the molecular events leading to sleep. The ATP then binds to a receptor responsible for cell processing and the release of cytokines, small signaling proteins involved in sleep regulation. By charting the link between ATP and the sleep regulatory substances, the researchers have found the way in which the brain keeps track of activity and ultimately switches from a wakeful to sleeping state. For example, learning and memory depend on changing the connections between brain cells. The study shows that ATP is the signal behind those changes. We know that brain activity is linked to sleep, but we've never known how," said James Krueger, WSU neuroscientist and lead author of a paper in the latest Journal of Applied Physiology. "This gives us a mechanism to link brain activity to sleep. This has not been done before." The mechanism - a cascade of chemical transmitters and proteins—opens the door to a more detailed understanding of the sleep process and possible targets for drugs and therapies aimed at the costly, debilitating and dangerous problems of fatigue and sleeplessness. Learn more about this important discovery and register for our Sleep Health and Safety conference .