Paradoxical (REM) sleep genesis: the switch from an aminergic-cholinergic to a GABAergic-glutamatergic hypothesis

J Physiol Paris. 2006 Nov-Dec;100(5-6):271-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2007.05.006. Epub 2007 Jun 8.


In the middle of the last century, Michel Jouvet discovered paradoxical sleep (PS), a sleep phase paradoxically characterized by cortical activation and rapid eye movements and a muscle atonia. Soon after, he showed that it was still present in "pontine cats" in which all structures rostral to the brainstem have been removed. Later on, it was demonstrated that the pontine peri-locus coeruleus alpha (peri-LCalpha in cats, corresponding to the sublaterodorsal nucleus, SLD, in rats) is responsible for PS onset. It was then proposed that the onset and maintenance of PS is due to a reciprocal inhibitory interaction between neurons presumably cholinergic specifically active during PS localized in this region and monoaminergic neurons. In the last decade, we have tested this hypothesis with our model of head-restrained rats and functional neuroanatomical studies. Our results confirmed that the SLD in rats contains the neurons responsible for the onset and maintenance of PS. They further indicate that (1) these neurons are non-cholinergic possibly glutamatergic neurons, (2) they directly project to the glycinergic premotoneurons localized in the medullary ventral gigantocellular reticular nucleus (GiV), (3) the main neurotransmitter responsible for their inhibition during waking (W) and slow wave sleep (SWS) is GABA rather than monoamines, (4) they are constantly and tonically excited by glutamate and (5) the GABAergic neurons responsible for their tonic inhibition during W and SWS are localized in the deep mesencephalic reticular nucleus (DPMe). We also showed that the tonic inhibition of locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic and dorsal raphe (DRN) serotonergic neurons during sleep is due to a tonic GABAergic inhibition by neurons localized in the dorsal paragigantocellular reticular nucleus (DPGi) and the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray (vlPAG). We propose that these GABAergic neurons also inhibit the GABAergic neurons of the DPMe at the onset and during PS and are therefore responsible for the onset and maintenance of PS.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Amines / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / cytology
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Amines
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Acetylcholine