Cholinergic modulation of GABAergic and glutamatergic transmission in the dorsal subcoeruleus: mechanisms for REM sleep control

Sleep. 2009 Sep;32(9):1135-47. doi: 10.1093/sleep/32.9.1135.


Study objectives: Dorsal subcoeruleus (SubCD) neurons are thought to promote PGO waves and to be modulated by cholinergic afferents during REM sleep. We examined the differential effect of the cholinergic agonist carbachol (CAR) on excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic currents (PSCs), and investigated the effects of CAR on SubCD neurons during the developmental decrease in REM sleep.

Design: Whole-cell patch clamp recordings were conducted on brainstem slices of 7- to 20-day-old rats.

Measurements and results: CAR acted directly on 50% of SubCD neurons by inducing an inward current, via both nicotinic and muscarinic M1 receptors. CAR induced a potassium mediated outward current via activation of M2 muscarinic receptors in 43% of SubCD cells. Evoked stimulation established the presence of NMDA, AMPA, GABA, and glycinergic PSCs in the SubCD. CAR was found to decrease the amplitude of evoked EPSCs in 31 of 34 SubCD cells, but decreased the amplitude of evoked IPSCs in only 1 of 13 SubCD cells tested. Spontaneous EPSCs were decreased by CAR in 55% of cells recorded, while spontaneous IPSCs were increased in 27% of SubCD cells. These findings indicate that CAR exerts a predominantly inhibitory role on fast synaptic glutamatergic activity and a predominantly excitatory role on fast synaptic GABAergic/glycinergic activity in the SubCD.

Conclusion: We hypothesize that during REM sleep, cholinergic "REM-on" neurons that project to the SubCD induce an excitation of inhibitory interneurons and inhibition of excitatory events leading to the production of coordinated activity in SubCD projection neurons. The coordination of these projection neurons may be essential for the production of REM sleep signs such as PGO waves.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Carbachol / pharmacology
  • Cholinergic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Evoked Potentials / drug effects
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Glutamic Acid / drug effects
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sleep, REM / drug effects
  • Sleep, REM / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / drug effects
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • Cholinergic Agonists
  • Glutamic Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Carbachol