Damaged REM Cells Linked to Brain Disorders

By Amy Taylor on June 08, 2017

Researchers from the University of Toronto found that a specific group of cells in the brain stem is responsible for controlling dreaming sleep, also called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Furthermore, they discovered that damage to those cells could lead to a sleeping disorder called REM Behaviour Disorder (RBD), which makes a person act out violent dreams. 

The new study has much more implications than just showing the neurological nature of dreams. It may actually help develop new treatments for varying degenerative diseases. Previous studies have shown that 80 per cent of people with RBD develop incurable brain diseases. 

“For some reason, the cells in the REM sleep area are the first to be sickened, and then the neurodegenerative disease spreads up into the brain and affects the other areas that cause disorders like Parkinson’s disease,” says John Peever, a professor of cell and systems biology at the University of Toronto. 

During a healthy night’s sleep, a person goes through light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep several times. During REM sleep, the neurons in the brain stem send signals to the brain’s cerebral cortex — perhaps drawing the details for the dream from the parts of the brain responsible for learning, thinking and moving — as well as to the body’s spinal cord, to prevent muscles from moving, Peever explained. 

During healthy REM sleep, most people do not move around much, although some do twitch or talk. And although some people are known to walk in their sleep, sleepwalking is not a part of REM sleep, but a part of the deep-sleep cycle, when dreaming doesn’t occur. 

In contrast, people who have RBD frequently have violent dreams and act them out during their REM sleep, injuring themselves and anyone who might be sleeping next them. 

REM behaviour disorder is also the best-known predictor of the onset of Parkinson’s disease, according to Peever. 

“The long-term strategy of this research is to develop a drug therapy that could treat patients who have been diagnosed with RBD. Such a therapy would likely not cure the patient of RBD, since the brain cells that cause that disorder would have already been damaged, but it could prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the brain.” 

Source of this article:

REM Sleep Cells Linked To Brain Disorders

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