Scientists Discover Brain Cells That Can Keep Someone Awake Without Feeling Of Sleepiness

In Education

Researchers from Washington State University claim to have found a potential solution for extending wakefulness without detrimental effects like tiredness and cognitive decline. This discovery challenges historical examples of prominent figures functioning on little sleep, suggesting a way to stay awake longer with fewer drawbacks.

Astrocytes important in regulating sleep

The research revealed that astrocytes, a type of brain cells, play a significant role in regulating sleep. Activation of these cells by WSU researchers resulted in extended wakefulness in mice without causing increased drowsiness.

The study revealed that extended wakefulness did not affect the sleep duration and intensity of mice compared to well-rested ones, contrary to the expected increase. The senior author, Marcos Frank, a neuroscientist from WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, suggests that this finding could lead to potential interventions targeting astrocytes to counteract the adverse effects of prolonged wakefulness in the future.

Prof. Frank’s vision involves developing medications to enhance the well-being, efficiency, and safety of individuals in various professions with unconventional working hours, such as shift workers, first responders, and military personnel. Research highlights that inadequate or misaligned sleep negatively affects crucial health aspects like focus, education, mental processes, memory, metabolism, and immune system function.

Astrocytes involved in behaviour through calcium signalling

Astrocytes, a type of non-neuronal cells in the brain, were once thought to be mere glue, but recent research reveals they’re actively involved in behaviors through a subtle process called calcium signaling. This was shown in a WSU study where suppressing astrocyte calcium signaling in mice reduced sleep need after deprivation. The study targeted astrocytes in the basal forebrain, a region controlling sleep time. Using chemogenetics, researchers activated these astrocytes, resulting in mice staying awake for over six hours during their usual sleep time without changing subsequent sleep patterns.

First author Ashley Ingiosi, a neuroscience professor at Ohio State University said that the study indicates that sleep is influenced not only by previous wakefulness but also by overlooked non-neuronal cells called astrocytes. The research reveals insights into how astrocytes collaborate with neurons to initiate sleep and control its patterns in various brain regions.

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