Background: Although sleep is an important process essential for life, its regulation is poorly understood. The recently developed Drosophila model for sleep provides a powerful system to genetically and pharmacologically identify molecules that regulate sleep. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter known to affect many behaviors, but its role in sleep remains controversial.
Results: We generated or obtained flies with genetically altered expression of each of three Drosophila serotonin receptor subtypes (d5-HT1A, d5-HT1B, and d5-HT2) and assayed them for baseline sleep phenotypes. The data indicated a sleep-regulating role for the d5-HT1A receptor. d5-HT1A mutant flies had short and fragmented sleep, which was rescued by expressing the receptor in adult mushroom bodies, a structure associated with learning and memory in Drosophila. Neither the d5-HT2 receptor nor the d5-HT1B receptor, which was previously implicated in circadian regulation, had any effect on baseline sleep, indicating that serotonin affects sleep and circadian rhythms through distinct receptors. Elevating serotonin levels, either pharmacologically or genetically, enhanced sleep in wild-type flies. In addition, serotonin promoted sleep in some short-sleep mutants, suggesting that it can compensate for some sleep deficits.
Conclusions: These data show that serotonin promotes baseline sleep in Drosophila. They also link the regulation of sleep behavior by serotonin to a specific receptor in a distinct region of the fly brain.