Neuronal noise as an origin of sleep arousals and its role in sudden infant death syndrome

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Science Advances  25 Apr 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 4, eaar6277
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aar6277

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In addition to regular sleep/wake cycles, humans and animals exhibit brief arousals from sleep. Although much is known about consolidated sleep and wakefulness, the mechanism that triggers arousals remains enigmatic. Here, we argue that arousals are caused by the intrinsic neuronal noise of wake-promoting neurons. We propose a model that simulates the superposition of the noise from a group of neurons, and show that, occasionally, the superposed noise exceeds the excitability threshold and provokes an arousal. Because neuronal noise decreases with increasing temperature, our model predicts arousal frequency to decrease as well. To test this prediction, we perform experiments on the sleep/wake behavior of zebrafish larvae and find that increasing water temperatures lead to fewer and shorter arousals, as predicted by our analytic derivations and model simulations. Our findings indicate a previously unrecognized neurophysiological mechanism that links sleep arousals with temperature regulation, and may explain the origin of the clinically observed higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome with increased ambient temperature.

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