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Overnight neuronal plasticity and adaptation to emotional distress

Research group Van Someren
Publication year 2024
Published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience
Authors Yesenia Cabrera, Karin J Koymans, Gina R Poe, Helmut W Kessels, Eus J W Van Someren, Rick Wassing

Expressions such as 'sleep on it' refer to the resolution of distressing experiences across a night of sound sleep. Sleep is an active state during which the brain reorganizes the synaptic connections that form memories. This Perspective proposes a model of how sleep modifies emotional memory traces. Sleep-dependent reorganization occurs through neurophysiological events in neurochemical contexts that determine the fates of synapses to grow, to survive or to be pruned. We discuss how low levels of acetylcholine during non-rapid eye movement sleep and low levels of noradrenaline during rapid eye movement sleep provide a unique window of opportunity for plasticity in neuronal representations of emotional memories that resolves the associated distress. We integrate sleep-facilitated adaptation over three levels: experience and behaviour, neuronal circuits, and synaptic events. The model generates testable hypotheses for how failed sleep-dependent adaptation to emotional distress is key to mental disorders, notably disorders of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress with the common aetiology of insomnia.

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