Sleep is characterized by behavioral quiescence, homeostasis, increased arousal threshold, and rapid reversibility. Understanding how these properties are encoded by a neuronal circuit has been difficult, and no single molecular or neuronal pathway has been shown to be responsible for the regulation of sleep. Taking advantage of the well-mapped neuronal connections of Caenorhabditis elegans and the sleep-like states in this animal, we demonstrate the changed properties of both sensory neurons and downstream interneurons that mediate sleep and arousal. The ASH sensory neuron displays reduced sensitivity to stimuli in the sleep-like state, and the activity of the corresponding interneurons in ASH's motor circuit becomes asynchronous. Restoration of interneuron synchrony is sufficient for arousal. The multilevel circuit depression revealed provides an elegant strategy to promote a robust decrease in arousal while allowing for rapid reversibility of the sleep state.
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