This morning began with the Keynote address given by Howard Roffwarg, who has studied the importance of REM sleep in the development and maturation of the human brain . REM sleep is necessary early in development as this is a time when the greatest development of synaptic connections, and general hypertrophy of the cortical matter occurs. Deprivation of REM sleep in an infant can seriously affect mental and physical health, leading to mental retardation and predisposing individuals to psychiatric disorders. It is also interesting to note that GABA activity during REM sleep mediates the length of this critical period of development. In the absence and/or reduction in GABA signaling, this critical period ends prematurely.
Following the keynnote address, I mosied around the posters before presenting my own. I was most intrigued by work from Cliff Saper’s lab at Harvard Medical School. Cliff Saper has localized various brain circuits responsible for the maintenance of wake and transitions into REM sleep. His newest work, presented by a graduate student, has localized a pathway from the emotional limbic system to the system mediating REM sleep. What’s the significance of this? For years, it has been known that many psychiatric disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder are associated with extended and intense periods of REM sleep across a sleeping episode. Though the psychoanalytical/Freudian critics believe that this is the psyche’s therapeuatical approach to mitigating stress, well Freud, you are wrong again. This circuit has been localized and research pertinent to the neccesity of REM sleep in emotional regulation and psychiatrc disorders will soon be conducted, I imagine. Neuroscience rocks.
After lunch in the exhibit hall courtesy of the pharma companies, I went to a talk on glia and sleep homeostasis. 90% of our brains are comprised of glia , and glia are important for the maintenance of chemical homeostasis and immune function. Well, it appears that glia are also important for the maintenance of sleep/wake. Phillip Haydon’s lab at UPENN recently discovered that astrocytic glia modulate adenosine levels across the waking day and sleeping night and can subsequently, modulate levels of alertness and memory consolidation. Imagine that. Glia rule.
After the sessions, I ventured over to the exhibit hall for free souvenirs from the pharma companies. While browsing, I learned from Phillips, who has recently ventured into blue light therapy, that NASA astronauts now use their products to advance their clocks before a space flight instead of traveling to Australia and residing there for three months. Though I would much prefer the latter method of advancing, spending less money is well received within this economic fiscal year. Perhaps that explains why there was a shortage of free souvenirs at the exhibit hall too.
Until more news about sleep, sleepiness, and sleep-localized pathways from SLEEP 2009….