Homeostatic Sleep Pressure Is the Primary Factor for Activation of Cortical nNOS/NK1 Neurons

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Dittrich L, Morairty SR, Warrier D and Kilduff TS (2015). Homeostatic sleep pressure is the primary factor for activation of cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons. Neuropsychopharmacology 40 (3):632-9.


Cortical interneurons, immunoreactive for neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and the receptor NK1, express the functional activity marker Fos selectively during sleep. NREM sleep ‘pressure’ is hypothesized to accumulate during waking and to dissipate during sleep. We reported previously that the proportion of Fos(+) cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons is correlated with established electrophysiological markers of sleep pressure. As these markers covary with the amount of NREM sleep, it remained unclear whether cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons are activated to the same degree throughout NREM sleep or whether the extent of their activation is related to the sleep pressure that accrued during the prior waking period. To distinguish between these possibilities, we used hypnotic medications to control the amount of NREM sleep in rats while we varied prior wake duration and the resultant sleep pressure. Drug administration was preceded by 6 h of sleep deprivation (SD) (‘high sleep pressure’) or undisturbed conditions (‘low sleep pressure’). We find that the proportion of Fos(+) cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons was minimal when sleep pressure was low, irrespective of the amount of time spent in NREM sleep. In contrast, a large proportion of cortical nNOS/NK1 neurons was Fos(+) when an equivalent amount of sleep was preceded by SD. We conclude that, although sleep is necessary for cortical nNOS/NK1 neuron activation, the proportion of cells activated is dependent upon prior wake duration.

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