Love your beauty rest? You can thank these brain cells

Help is on the way for insomnia, narcolepsy …

(SCIENCE DAILY) Johns Hopkins researchers report the unexpected presence of a type of neuron in the brains of mice that appears to play a central role in promoting sleep by turning ‘off’ wake-promoting neurons.

The newly identified brain cells, located in a part of the hypothalamus called the zona incerta, they say, could offer novel drug targets to treat sleep disorders, such as insomnia and narcolepsy, caused by the dysfunction of sleep-regulating neurons.

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Normal sleep has two parts, rapid eye movement (REM) and nonrapid eye movement (non-REM). Both are essential for healthy, restful sleep. ©Vadimb | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

A summary of the research, published August 31 in Nature, describes neurons that express a gene called Lhx6. Lhx6-expressing cells had not been observed in this area of the brain before and appear to connect the zona incerta to areas of the brain that control sleep and wakefulness. “Because the hypothalamus is an ancient system that was relatively well-conserved in evolution from fish to humans, understanding its genetics and chemistry in mice should advance our knowledge of what happens in people’s brains,” says Seth Blackshaw, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the study’s lead author.

Lhx6 is a gene that is essential for the formation of neurons that inhibit other neurons. “We know cells in other regions of the brain use Lhx6 and that the gene is vital for these areas to develop properly. For example, disrupting Lhx6 expression can result in many diseases, including severe epilepsy,” says Blackshaw. The known function of this gene in other cells led the researchers to study whether the Lhx6-expressing neurons played a role in inhibiting wake-promoting neurons.

Normal sleep has two parts, rapid eye movement (REM) and nonrapid eye movement (non-REM). REM sleep is where most dreaming occurs, while non-REM sleep is understood to be deeper and less active. Both parts are essential for healthy, restful sleep. READ FULL STORY AT SCIENCE DAILY.

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