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BACKGROUND - Dysregulation of arousal is symptomatic of numerous psychiatric disorders. Previous research has shown that the activity of dopamine (DA) neurons in the ventral periaqueductal gray (vPAG) tracks with arousal state, and lesions of vPAG cells increase sleep. However, the circuitry controlling these wake-promoting DA neurons is unknown.
METHODS - This study combined designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs), behavioral pharmacology, electrophysiology, and immunoelectron microscopy in male and female mice to elucidate mechanisms in the vPAG that promote arousal.
RESULTS - Activation of locus coeruleus projections to the vPAG or vPAG neurons induced by DREADDs promoted arousal. Similarly, agonist stimulation of vPAG alpha1-adrenergic receptors (α1ARs) increased latency to fall asleep, whereas α1AR blockade had the opposite effect. α1AR stimulation drove vPAG activity in a glutamate-dependent, action potential-independent manner. Compared with other dopaminergic brain regions, α1ARs were enriched on astrocytes in the vPAG, and mimicking α1AR transmission specifically in vPAG astrocytes via Gq-DREADDS was sufficient to increase arousal. In general, the wake-promoting effects observed were not accompanied by hyperactivity.
CONCLUSIONS - These experiments revealed that vPAG α1ARs increase arousal, promote glutamatergic input onto vPAG neurons, and are abundantly expressed on astrocytes. Activation of locus coeruleus inputs, vPAG astrocytes, or vPAG neurons increase sleep latency but do not produce hyperactivity. Together, these results support an arousal circuit whereby noradrenergic transmission at astrocytic α1ARs activates wake-promoting vPAG neurons via glutamate transmission.
Copyright © 2018 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.