Newly Identified Sleep-Wake and Circadian Circuits as Potential Therapeutic Targets

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Neurobiology, Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute; NeuroNexus Institute; Anaclet Lab

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Neuroscience and Neurobiology


Optogenetics and chemogenetics are powerful tools, allowing the specific activation or inhibition of targeted neuronal sub-populations. Application of these techniques to sleep and circadian research has resulted in the unveiling of several neuronal populations that are involved in sleep-wake control, and allowed a comprehensive interrogation of the circuitry through which these nodes are coordinated to orchestrate the sleep-wake cycle. In this review, we discuss six recently described sleep-wake and circadian circuits that show promise as therapeutic targets for sleep medicine. The parafacial zone (PZ) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) are potential druggable targets for the treatment of insomnia. The brainstem circuit underlying rapid eye movement (REM) sleep behavior disorder (RBD) offers new possibilities for treating RBD and neurodegenerative synucleinopathies, while the parabrachial nucleus, as a nexus linking arousal state control and breathing, is a promising target for developing treatments for sleep apnea. Therapies that act upon the hypothalamic circuitry underlying the for circadian regulation of aggression or the photic regulation of arousal and mood (PRAM) pathway carry enormous potential for helping to reduce the socio-economic burden of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders on society. Intriguingly, the development of chemogenetics as a therapeutic strategy is now well underway and such an approach has the capacity to lead to more focused and less invasive therapies for treating sleep-wake disorders and related comorbidities.


parafacial zone, ventral tegmental area, hypercapnia, REM behavioral disorder, aggression, photic regulation of arousal and mood

DOI of Published Version



Sleep. 2019 Feb 5. pii: 5306564. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsz023. [Epub ahead of print] Link to article on publisher's site

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