The role of immune cells in the sleep-wake cycle


Sleep is a universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom which on the one hand has a restorative function, allowing the recovery of energies spent during wakefulness and the removal of waste products, and on the other hand has a fundamental role in cognitive processes and processing. information. In fact, during sleep, computational processes occur such as the formation and consolidation of memory relating to events that occurred during wakefulness, as well as alterations or sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive disturbances.

Although it has been shown that the alternation of the sleep-wake cycle is regulated both by internal stimuli (main biological clock, located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus) and by external stimuli (such as the dark-light cycle, work activity or meals ), the cellular mechanisms underlying the sleep-wake cycle are still partly unknown.

A new study coordinated by researchers from the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of Sapienza, in collaboration with the Department of Molecular Medicine of the University, the National Research Council and other universities and international research centers, fits into this research framework. the role of microglia cells in regulating the sleep-wake cycle is demonstrated for the first time. These cells take care of the active immune defense in the central nervous system and, according to the work published in the journal Glia, also contribute to regulating the duration of sleep, thanks to their interaction with nerve cells.

“Microglia – explains Cristina Limatola di Sapienza, coordinator of the study – regulates the duration of the sleep phase in mice also through the chemokine receptor CX3CR1, highly expressed in these cells where it plays important roles during development and maturation of the central nervous system”.

“Animal models in which microglia have been eliminated through treatment with a CSF1R receptor antagonist, or lack the CX3CR1 receptor on microglia – adds Limatola – show an increase in the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) phase of sleep, during the waking hours associated with alterations in synaptic transmission in the hippocampus, a region that is fundamental for the formation of long-term memory ยป. This work helps unravel the mechanisms underlying the regulation of the sleep-wake cycle and opens up new perspectives on the role of glia cells in brain functioning.


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