Disinhibition of ventrolateral preoptic area sleep-active neurons by adenosine: A new mechanism for sleep promotion

S. Morairty, D. Rainnie, R. McCarley, R. Greene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


The ventrolateral preoptic area of the hypothalamus (VLPO) contains a population of sleep-active neurons and is hypothesized to be an important part of the somnogenic process. Adenosine (AD) is an endogenous sleep-promoting factor and may play an important role in promoting natural sleep. We hypothesize that AD may promote sleep, in part, by activating the VLPO sleep-active neurons. Although, in the CNS, AD is generally regarded as an inhibitory neuromodulator, it is possible for AD to be directly excitatory via A2 receptors or indirectly via disinhibition. In order to test the hypotheses that AD can excite VLPO neurons we made intracellular recordings from the VLPO in vitro and examined the effects of AD on VLPO neural activity. Whole cell patch-clamp recordings were obtained from rat brain slices and drugs were bath applied. VLPO neurons were electrophysiologically heterogeneous. Depolarizing current steps elicited rhythmic firing (25 of 57), spike frequency adaptation or accommodation (24 of 57), or an unusual burst firing response (eight of 57). Spontaneous synaptic activity was pronounced in most recorded neurons and consisted of either fast excitatory post-synaptic potentials/currents (EPSP/C's) and/or fast inhibitory post-synaptic potentials/currents (IPSP/C's). The IPSC's were fully blocked by 30 μM bicuculline suggesting they are GABA A-mediated events, and the EPSC's were blocked by 40 μM DNQX suggesting they are mediated by the AMPA subtype of glutamate receptor (five of five). AD (20-100 μM) reduced the frequency of spontaneous IPSC's in 11 of 17 VLPO neurons (28-100%; mean reduction=63%) without significant effects on resting membrane potential. IPSC was unaffected in five neurons and one neuron displayed increases in spontaneous IPSC's. In contrast, AD decreased EPSC frequency in seven cells (36-73%; mean=59%), increased frequency in five cells (30-236%; mean 83%) and had no effect in six cells. AD application increased the firing rate in two of four cells tested. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that one mechanism which AD may promote sleep is by blocking inhibitory inputs on VLPO sleep-active neurons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-457
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2004


  • Brain slice
  • GABA
  • Rat
  • Whole-cell patch clamp

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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