Sleep and wakefulness are characterized by unique intrinsic activity patterns and are usually thought to be two distinct global states, with the preoptic area of the hypothalamus being the regulator of brain state changes. Yamagata et al. find that this area also affects within-state changes of sleep and wake intensity.
Our current understanding of how sleep is regulated is based upon the model of sleep homeostasis, which defines a variable called Process S as a measure of sleep need, and a so-called “flip-flop” model of state switching, which builds on a notion of a mutually antagonistic relationship between subcortical sleep-promoting and wake-promoting circuits. The neurobiological substrates of the interaction between the sleep switch and Process S are unknown. Our study identifies a previously unrecognized role of hypothalamic circuitry in tuning within-state brain activity or levels of arousal, which in turn determine the homeostatic drive for sleep.Abstract
Sleep and wakefulness are not simple, homogenous all-or-none states but represent a spectrum of substates, distinguished by behavior, levels of arousal, and brain activity at the local and global levels. Until now, the role of the hypothalamic circuitry in sleep–wake control was studied primarily with respect to its contribution to rapid state transitions. In contrast, whether the hypothalamus modulates within-state dynamics (state “quality”) and the functional significance thereof remains unexplored. Here, we show that photoactivation of inhibitory neurons in the lateral preoptic area (LPO) of the hypothalamus of adult male and female laboratory mice does not merely trigger awakening from sleep, but the resulting awake state is also characterized by an activated electroencephalogram (EEG) pattern, suggesting increased levels of arousal. This was associated with a faster build-up of sleep pressure, as reflected in higher EEG slow-wave activity (SWA) during subsequent sleep. In contrast, photoinhibition of inhibitory LPO neurons did not result in changes in vigilance states but was associated with persistently increased EEG SWA during spontaneous sleep. These findings suggest a role of the LPO in regulating arousal levels, which we propose as a key variable shaping the daily architecture of sleep–wake states.