Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Dopamine imbalances cause sleep disorders in animal models of Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia

Neuroscientists at Duke University Medical Center working with genetically engineered mice have found that the brain chemical dopamine plays a critical role in regulating sleep and brain activity associated with dreaming.

When dopamine levels were dramatically reduced, the mice could no longer sleep, the scientists said. When dopamine levels were increased, the mice exhibited brain activity associated with dreaming during wakefulness.

The same processes likely occur in humans, according to the researchers. They said the findings give insight into the sleep problems common among patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder in which brain cells containing dopamine die or become impaired.

"Our study may lead to development of new diagnostic tools for the early detection of Parkinson's disease based on the sleep disturbances that are often associated with motor symptoms of the disease," said senior study investigator Miguel Nicolelis, M.D., Ph.D., Anne W. Deane professor of neuroscience.

The findings may also provide a mechanism to explain some of the symptoms, such as hallucinations, experienced by psychotic and schizophrenic patients, he said.

The researchers published their findings in the Oct. 11, 2006, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Hereditary Disease Foundation and the Anne W. Deane professorship to Nicolelis.

Parkinson's disease occurs when the brain cells, or neurons, that normally produce dopamine die or become impaired. Once 60 percent to 70 percent of the neurons are knocked out of commission, the jerky movements and fixed facial expressions characteristic of Parkinson's appear.

The new study suggests that destruction of significantly fewer dopamine-producing cells could result in sleep problems long before the motor problems become apparent, the researchers said.

Dopamine is a "neurotransmitter" that carries signals from one neuron to another. It is known to control movement, balance, emotion and the sense of pleasure.

Normally, when a signal needs to travel through the brain, neurons release dopamine to transport the signal across the gap, or synapse, between neurons. A kind of protein pump, called a transporter, recycles dopamine back to the neurons to prepare for the next burst of signal.

In studies 10 years ago, Marc Caron, Ph.D., James B. Duke professor of cell biology and a co-investigator in the current study, used the techniques of genetic engineering to produce a strain of mice that lacked this protein transporter. In such transgenic mice, dopamine lingers outside brain cells, stimulating surrounding neurons hundreds of times longer than normal. Caron and colleagues found that when they placed the mice in an unfamiliar environment, such as a new cage, the animals groomed themselves excessively and ran around the cage, mirroring the bizarre behaviors experienced by people with schizophrenia.

The researchers used this same strain of transgenic mice in the current study. They reasoned that both schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease are characterized by imbalances of dopamine in the brain, and that patients with both diseases experience sleep disturbances. So the researchers sought to further manipulate the mice to study the role of dopamine in the sleep cycle.

First, the researchers treated the mice with a chemical that stops the production of dopamine entirely. In fairly short order, the mice had used up their initial supply of dopamine and were running on empty.

The mice became rigid, immobile, and unable to sleep or dream, displaying symptoms similar to those experienced by patients with Parkinson's disease, the researchers said.

The researchers then measured the electrical activity in each animal's hippocampus, the region of the brain known to be involved in emotion and memory, during three major brain states: wakefulness, quiet sleep and dreaming (also known as rapid eye movement sleep). Using electrodes finer than a human hair implanted into individual neurons, the researchers could monitor signals passed among hundreds of neurons in the treated mice. They found a lack of dopamine completely suppressed brain activity and behaviors associated with quiet sleep and dreaming.

To verify that the sleep disturbances were caused by a lack of dopamine, the researchers gave the mice L-dopa, a drug used to increase the levels of dopamine in Parkinson's disease patients. The treated animals regained the brain patterns and behaviors associated with sleep and dreaming, demonstrating the critical role dopamine plays in the sleep-wake cycle, according to the researchers. Further pharmacological testing revealed that L-dopa exerted its effects by docking at a specific site, called the D2 receptor, on the surface of the neurons.

"Sleep disorders may be the first sign of Parkinson's disease," said lead study investigator Kafui Dzirasa, an M.D.-Ph.D. student working in Nicolelis's laboratory.

"By further studying the sleep patterns in animal models of Parkinson's disease, we hope to come up with a sleep diagnosis test that could detect the early signs of the disease years before the major symptoms appear," he said.

The study also provided insights into the biology underlying schizophrenia, the researchers said. They found that the excess dopamine in the brains of the mice generated patterns of brain activity that made it look as though the animals were experiencing brain activity associated with dreaming when they were actually awake.

"One of the preeminent ideas of classical psychiatry is that people who had hallucinations, such as schizophrenics, were actually dreaming while they are awake," Nicolelis said. "Our results give some initial biological evidence for this theory."

Marla Vacek Broadfoot | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Animal Disease Parkinson' dopamine dreaming patients schizophrenia symptoms

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'
16.03.2018 | Emory Health Sciences

nachricht Scientists map the portal to the cell's nucleus
16.03.2018 | Rockefeller University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>