Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Changes in the way that neurons communicate with each other affect our ability to move between sleep and wake states.

Woman asleep

In new research published in Science Advances, researchers from our Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, working with colleagues at MRC Harwell and University College London, have shown that changes in the way that neurons communicate with each other in the brain affect our ability to move between sleep and wake states. These findings bring us closer to understanding the role of specific genes in regulating various sleep stages.

While our bodies sleep, we transition between sleep stages, alternating between non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and wakefulness. These transitions are controlled by structures in the brain, however, the genetic regulation of this is not well understood.

Using video recordings of mice, researchers identified a mouse line that had widespread disturbances in sleep and defects in the neuronal networks that mediate the sleep-wake transition. These animals also show defects in switching between NREM and REM sleep.

By mapping the genetic mutation underlying this defect, they showed that a single change in a synaptic protein, VAMP2, resulted in disruption of synaptic mechanisms. Mutant mice had a reduction in neurotransmitter release and an overall weakening of synaptic connections, resulting in slower switching between sleep states.

These findings identify a previously unrecognised role of VAMP2 in sleep and highlights how communication in neuronal networks across the brain plays a key role in regulating sleep. Identifying the role individual genes play in moving between states of consciousness will provide a new understanding of disturbances within the various stages of sleep. This insight will help us understand how sleep quality is affected in humans, and will contribute to new treatments for sleep disorders.

Similar stories

Evaluating risk to people with epilepsy during the COVID-19 pandemic - study wins international prize

In May 2020 our researchers initiated a global project to investigate how COVID-19 has affected people with epilepsy, their carers and health care workers.

New European initiative to accelerate the discovery and validation of biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases

Members of the European Platform for Neurodegenerative Diseases (EPND) will establish a collaborative platform for efficient sample and data sharing, linking existing European research infrastructures to accelerate the discovery of biomarkers, new diagnostics and treatments for the benefit of people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Major research network to investigate body clock and stroke

The University of Oxford is part of a new international research network to investigate the interactions between the biology of the body's internal clock and the disordered physiological processes associated with stroke.

COVID-19 infection has greater risk than vaccines of causing very rare neurological events

Research reveals risks of developing neurological complications following a positive COVID-19 PCR test, or a first dose of either the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations.

Mapping uncharted networks in the progression of Parkinson’s

A major new $9 million project funded by the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative will map the original circuits vulnerable to Parkinson’s on an unprecedented scale. The project is a collaboration between core investigators Stephanie Cragg, Richard Wade-Martins, and Peter Magill at Oxford, Mark Howe at Boston University and Dinos Meletis at the Karolinska Institutet, as well as collaborators Yulong Li at Peking University and Michael Lin at Stanford University.