The locus coeruleus-noradrenergic system supplies norepinephrine throughout the central nervous system. State-dependent neuronal discharge activity of locus coeruleus noradrenergic neurons has long-suggested a role of this system in the induction of an alert waking state. Work over the past two decades provides unambiguous evidence that the locus coeruleus, and likely other noradrenergic nuclei, exert potent wake-promoting actions via an activation of noradrenergic β- and α₁-receptors located within multiple subcortical structures, including the general regions of the medial septal area, the medial preoptic area and, most recently, the lateral hypothalamus. Conversely, global blockade of β- and α₁-receptors or suppression of norepinephrine release results in profound sedation. The wake-promoting action of central noradrenergic neurotransmission has clinical implications for treatment of sleep/arousal disorders, such as insomnia and narcolepsy, and clinical conditions associated with excessive arousal, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
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