Activity of GABA neurons in the zona incerta and ventral lateral periaqueductal grey is biased towards sleep

Sleep. 2023 Mar 9;46(3):zsac306. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsac306.


Study objectives: As in various brain regions the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurons is largely unknown, we measured in vivo changes in calcium fluorescence in GABA neurons in the zona incerta (ZI) and the ventral lateral periaqueductal grey (vlPAG), two areas that have been implicated in regulating sleep.

Methods: vGAT-Cre mice were implanted with sleep electrodes, microinjected with rAAV-DIO-GCaMP6 into the ZI (n = 6) or vlPAG (n = 5) (isoflurane anesthesia) and a GRIN (Gradient-Index) lens inserted atop the injection site. Twenty-one days later, fluorescence in individual vGAT neurons was recorded over multiple REM cycles. Regions of interest corresponding to individual vGAT somata were automatically extracted with PCA-ICA analysis.

Results: In the ZI, 372 neurons were identified. Previously, we had recorded the activity of 310 vGAT neurons in the ZI and we combined the published dataset with the new dataset to create a comprehensive dataset of ZI vGAT neurons (total neurons = 682; mice = 11). In the vlPAG, 169 neurons (mice = 5) were identified. In both regions, most neurons were maximally active in REM sleep (R-Max; ZI = 51.0%, vlPAG = 60.9%). The second most abundant group was W-Max (ZI = 23.9%, vlPAG = 25.4%). In the ZI, but not in vlPAG, there were neurons that were NREMS-Max (11.7%). vlPAG had REMS-Off neurons (8.3%). In both areas, there were two minor classes: wake/REMS-Max and state indifferent. In the ZI, the NREMS-Max neurons fluoresced 30 s ahead of sleep onset.

Conclusions: These descriptive data show that the activity of GABA neurons is biased in favor of sleep in two brain regions implicated in sleep.

Keywords: GABA; GCaMP6; calcium imaging; sleep; vGAT-ires-Cre mice; zona incerta.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • GABAergic Neurons
  • Mice
  • Periaqueductal Gray
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Zona Incerta* / physiology
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid