Sleep disturbances may indicate hidden brain diseases

Canadian scientists from the University of Toronto have found that REM sleep disorders (REM) may be associated with several neurodegenerative diseases that usually develop in old age.

In their earlier studies, the researchers proved that there are brain cells that are responsible for the onset of REM sleep – REM-active neurons. It is in this phase that dreams occur, which means that these nerve cells control a person’s dreams. REM-active neurons are located in the brain stem, which communicates with the hypothalamus. When these nerve cells are activated, the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA is released , which reduces the level of excitation in the hypothalamus and brain stem and leads to muscle relaxation. Scientists decided that this is where they should look for the causes of narcolepsy, cataplexy and other sleep disorders.  

However, in the course of research, it turned out that more than 80% of people suffering from REM sleep disorders develop synucleinopathies – neurodegenerative diseases in which the protein alpha- synuclein is deposited in REM-active neurons . Ultimately, these nerve cells die. This process underlies such diseases as Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, etc. 

Scientists have come to the conclusion that disturbances in the REM phase may be an early symptom of these ailments, which will appear only 15 years later.

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