Considerable advances in our understanding of the mechanisms and functions of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep have occurred over the past decade. Much of this progress can be attributed to the development of new neuroscience tools that have enabled high-precision interrogation of brain circuitry linked with REM sleep control, in turn revealing how REM sleep mechanisms themselves impact processes such as sensorimotor function. This review is intended to update the general scientific community about the recent mechanistic, functional and conceptual developments in our current understanding of REM sleep biology and pathobiology. Specifically, this review outlines the historical origins of the discovery of REM sleep, the diversity of REM sleep expression across and within species, the potential functions of REM sleep (e.g., memory consolidation), the neural circuits that control REM sleep, and how dysfunction of REM sleep mechanisms underlie debilitating sleep disorders such as REM sleep behaviour disorder and narcolepsy.
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