Nucleus Accumbens Medium Spiny Neuron Subtypes Differentially Regulate Stress-Associated Alterations in Sleep Architecture

Biol Psychiatry. 2021 Jun 15;89(12):1138-1149. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2020.12.030. Epub 2021 Jan 13.


Background: Stress is implicated in the pathophysiology of major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. These conditions share core features, including motivational deficits, heighted anxiety, and sleep dysregulation. Chronic stress produces these same features in rodents, with some individuals being susceptible or resilient, as seen in humans. While stress-induced neuroadaptations within the nucleus accumbens are implicated in susceptibility-related dysregulation of motivational and emotional behaviors, their effects on sleep are unclear.

Methods: We used chemogenetics (DREADDs [designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs]) to examine the effects of selective alterations in activity of nucleus accumbens medium spiny neurons expressing dopamine D1 receptors (D1-MSNs) or dopamine D2 receptors (D2-MSNs) on sleep-related end points. Mice were implanted with wireless transmitters enabling continuous collection of data to quantify vigilance states over a 20-day test period. Parallel cohorts were examined in behavioral tests assessing stress susceptibility.

Results: D1- and D2-MSNs play dissociable roles in sleep regulation. Stimulation of inhibitory or excitatory DREADDs expressed in D1-MSNs exclusively affects rapid eye movement sleep, whereas targeting D2-MSNs affects slow wave sleep. The combined effects of D1-MSN inhibition and D2-MSN activation on sleep resemble those of chronic social defeat stress. Alterations in D1-MSN function also affect stress susceptibility in social behavior tests. Elevation of CREB (cAMP response element-binding protein) within D1-MSNs is sufficient to produce stress-like effects on rapid eye movement sleep.

Conclusions: In addition to regulation of motivational and emotional behaviors, the nucleus accumbens also influences sleep, an end point with high translational relevance. These findings provide a neural basis for comorbidity in key features of stress-related illness.

Keywords: Chemogenetics; Chronic social defeat; DREADDs; EEG; Medium spiny neuron; Mouse; Resilience; Sleep; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens* / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1* / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism
  • Sleep


  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2