Basal forebrain cholinergic modulation of sleep transitions

Sleep. 2014 Dec 1;37(12):1941-51. doi: 10.5665/sleep.4246.


Objectives: The basal forebrain cholinergic system is involved in cognitive processes that require an attentive state, an increased level of arousal, and/ or cortical activation associated with low amplitude fast EEG activity. The activity of most neurons in the basal forebrain cholinergic space is tightly correlated with the cortical EEG and the activity state. While most cholinergic neurons fire maximally during waking and REM sleep, the activity of other types of basal forebrain neurons vastly differs across different arousal and sleep states. Numerous studies have suggested a role for the basal forebrain cholinergic neurons in eliciting cortical activation and arousal. However, the intricate local connectivity within the region requires the use of cell-specific manipulation methods to demonstrate such a causal relationship.

Design and measurements: Here we have combined optogenetics with surface EEG recordings in freely moving mice in order to investigate the effects of acute cholinergic activation on the dynamics of sleep-to-wake transitions. We recorded from naturally sleeping animals and analyzed transitions from NREM sleep to REM sleep and/ or wakefulness in response to photo-stimulation of cholinergic neurons in substantia innominata.

Results and conclusions: Our results show that optogenetic activation of BF cholinergic neurons during NREM sleep is sufficient to elicit cortical activation and facilitate state transitions, particularly transitions to wakefulness and arousal, at a time scale similar to the activation induced by other subcortical systems. Our results provide in vivo cell-specific demonstration for the role of basal forebrain cholinergic system in induction of wakefulness and arousal.

Keywords: REM sleep; choline acetyltransferase (ChAT); electroencephalogram (EEG); horizontal limb of diagonal band (HLDB); nucleus basalis (NB); optogenetics; recordings from freely moving animals; slow wave sleep; substantia innominata (SI); transgenic mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Basal Forebrain / cytology*
  • Basal Forebrain / physiology*
  • Cholinergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Optogenetics
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep, REM / physiology
  • Substantia Innominata / cytology
  • Wakefulness / physiology