During non-REM sleep the EEG is dominated by slow waves which result from synchronized UP and DOWN states in the component neurons of the thalamocortical network. This review focuses on four areas of recent progress in our understanding of these events. Thus, it has now been conclusively demonstrated that the full expression of slow waves, both of natural sleep and anesthesia, requires an essential contribution by the thalamus. Furthermore, the modulatory role of brainstem transmitters, the function of cortical inhibition and the relative contribution of single neocortical neurons to EEG slow waves have started to be carefully investigated. Together, these new data confirm the view that a full understanding of slow waves can only be achieved by considering the thalamocortical network as a single functional and dynamic unit for the generation of this key EEG rhythm.
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