Subthreshold excitatory activity and motoneuron discharge during REM periods of active sleep

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Science  16 Sep 1983:
Vol. 221, Issue 4616, pp. 1195-1198
DOI: 10.1126/science.6310749


A striking paradox of the rapid eye movement periods of active sleep, which are typically characterized by the exacerbation of somatomotor atonia, is the occurrence of muscle twitches and jerks. The purpose of this study was to examine the specific motoneuron membrane potential processes responsible for these myoclonic patterns of activity. In lumbar motoneurons, examined intracellularly in the cat prepared for long-term study, these processes consisted of recurrent depolarizing membrane potential shifts and spontaneous action potentials that were either full-sized or of partial amplitude. In addition, the invasion of antidromically induced spikes into the soma was often blocked. Hyperpolarizing potentials were evident in the intervals between spontaneous spikes. Hyperpolarization was also observed immediately before depolarization and spike activity, in contrast to the gradual depolarization of the motoneuron membrane potential that always occurred during wakefulness. Thus, during rapid eye movement periods, in conjunction with muscle twitches and jerks, a strong excitatory input is superimposed on a background of inhibitory input. The unique patterns of membrane potential change that arise thus seem to result from the simultaneous coactivation of excitatory and inhibitory processes.