Neurotransmitters Could Solve Serious Sleep Disorders
Researchers have discovered that two neurotransmitters work together in the brain to block dangerous muscle movements during sleep—and the finding could lead to improved treatment of serious conditions like REM sleep disorder.
Until now, experts in sleep disorders have believed that only one of those neurotransmitters, glycine, controlled the body’s muscle movements during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. But the latest study, conducted at the University of Toronto with rats as subjects, found that another one, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), worked in tandem with glycine to paralyze muscles during REM sleep. Without such paralysis, patients suffering from some sleep disorders might, for example, walk without waking up.
Dennis McGinty, Ph.D., a behavioral neuroscientist at the Universiy of California, Los Angeles, who isn’t associated with the research, said in a statement: “By identifying the neurotransmitters and receptors involved in sleep-related paralysis, this study points us to possible… treatments for sleep-related motor disorders, which can often be debilitating.”
Researcher John H. Peever, Ph.D., of the University of Toronto, said the discovery was especially important as an indicator of how to treat REM sleep disorder, in which a patient acts out his or her dream while it’s going on.
Up to 80 percent of people with that illness go on to develop a degenerative disease like Parkinson’s, and knowing how to effectively treat or reverse the earlier disorder might prevent the development of the more serious illness.