Sleep and arousal: thalamocortical mechanisms

Annu Rev Neurosci. 1997:20:185-215. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.20.1.185.


Thalamocortical activity exhibits two distinct states: (a) synchronized rhythmic activity in the form of delta, spindle, and other slow waves during EEG-synchronized sleep and (b) tonic activity during waking and rapid-eye-movement sleep. Spindle waves are generated largely through a cyclical interaction between thalamocortical and thalamic reticular neurons involving both the intrinsic membrane properties of these cells and their anatomical interconnections. Specific alterations in the interactions between these cells can result in the generation of paroxysmal events resembling absence seizures in children. The release of several different neurotransmitters from the brain stem, hypothalamus, basal forebrain, and cerebral cortex results in a depolarization of thalamocortical and thalamic reticular neurons and an enhanced excitability in many cortical pyramidal cells, thereby suppressing the generation of sleep rhythms and promoting a state that is conducive to sensory processing and cognition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Thalamus / physiology*