Selective activation of cholinergic basal forebrain neurons induces immediate sleep-wake transitions

Curr Biol. 2014 Mar 17;24(6):693-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.02.011. Epub 2014 Mar 6.


The basal forebrain (BF) plays a crucial role in cortical activation [1, 2]. However, the exact role of cholinergic BF (ch-BF) neurons in the sleep-wake cycle remains unclear [3, 4]. We demonstrated that photostimulation of ch-BF neurons genetically targeted with channelrhodopsin 2 (ChR2) was sufficient to induce an immediate transition to waking or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep from slow-wave sleep (SWS). Light stimulation was most likely to induce behavioral arousal during SWS, but not during REM sleep, a result in contrast to the previously reported photostimulation of noradrenergic or hypocretin neurons that induces wake transitions from both SWS and REM sleep. Furthermore, the ratio of light-induced transitions from SWS to wakefulness or to REM sleep did not significantly differ from that of natural transitions, suggesting that activation of ch-BF neurons facilitates the transition from SWS but does not change the direction of the transition. Excitation of ch-BF neurons during wakefulness or REM sleep sustained the cortical activation. Stimulation of these neurons for 1 hr induced a delayed increase in the duration of wakefulness in the subsequent inactive period. Our results suggest that activation of ch-BF neurons alone is sufficient to suppress SWS and promote wakefulness and REM sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Channelrhodopsins
  • Cholinergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromyography
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prosencephalon / cytology
  • Prosencephalon / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Wakefulness / physiology*


  • Channelrhodopsins