Dopamine Plays Critical Role in Sleep


TUESDAY, Oct. 10 (HealthDay News) -- The brain chemical dopamine plays an important role in regulating sleep and brain activity associated with dreaming, a Duke University Medical Center study finds.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that carries signals between neurons (brain cells).

The Duke team found that mice with dramatically reduced dopamine levels could not sleep. When dopamine levels were boosted, the mice showed brain activity associated with dreaming while being awake.

The scientists said the same processes likely occur in humans and the findings offer new insight into the sleep problems commonly experienced by people with Parkinson's disease, in which brain cells containing dopamine become injured or die.

"Our study may lead to development of new diagnostic tools for the early detection of Parkinson's disease based on the sleep disturbances that are often associated with motor symptoms of the disease," senior investigator Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, professor of neuroscience, said in a prepared statement.

The research may also help explain the causes of hallucinations and other symptoms experienced by schizophrenic and psychotic patients, Nicolelis said.

The study was slated for publication in the Oct. 11 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

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