Biochemical regulation of non-rapid-eye-movement sleep

Front Biosci. 2003 May 1:8:d520-50. doi: 10.2741/1033.


The concept, that sleep regulatory substances (sleep factors) exist, stems from classical endocrinology and is supported by positive transfer experiments in which tissue fluids obtained from sleepy or sleeping animals elicited sleep when injected into recipient animals. The transfer experiments concluded with the identification of four sleep factors: delta sleep-inducing peptide (DSIP), uridine, oxidized glutathione, and a muramyl peptide. A physiological sleep regulatory role, however, has not been determined for these substances. In contrast, transfer experiments did not play a part in the development of the strong experimental evidence that implicated the currently known sleep factors in sleep regulation. These substances include adenosine, prostaglandin D2 (PGD2), growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), interleukin-1 (IL1) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF). They promote non-REMS in various species, inhibition of their action or endogenous production results in loss of spontaneous sleep, and their synthesis and/or release display variations correlating with sleep-wake activity. Although the source of these substances vary they all enhance sleep by acting in the basal forebrain/anterior hypothalamus--preoptic region. It is also characteristic of these substances that they interact in multiple ways often resulting in mutual stimulation or potentiation of each other. Finally, there is a third group of substances whose significance in sleep regulation is less clear but for which there are two or more lines of evidence suggesting that they may have a role in modulating non-REM sleep (NREMS). This group includes oleamide, cortistatin, cholecystokinin (CCK), insulin, and nitric oxide (NO). More sleep regulatory substances are likely to be discovered in the future although it is a long and difficult process requiring multiple laboratories to generate sufficient convincing data to implicate any one of them in sleep regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*