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Synapse remodeling during sleep
General activity and information processing while an animal is awake drive synapse strengthening. This is counterbalanced by weakening of synapses during sleep (see the Perspective by Acsády). De Vivo et al. used serial scanning electron microscopy to reconstruct axon-spine interface and spine head volume in the mouse brain. They observed a substantial decrease in interface size after sleep. The largest relative changes occurred among weak synapses, whereas strong ones remained stable. Diering et al. found that synapses undergo changes in synaptic glutamate receptors during the sleep-wake cycle, driven by the immediate early gene Homer1a. In awake animals, Homer1a accumulates in neurons but is excluded from synapses by high levels of noradrenaline. At the onset of sleep, noradrenaline levels decline, allowing Homer1a to move to excitatory synapses and drive synapse weakening.
It is assumed that synaptic strengthening and weakening balance throughout learning to avoid runaway potentiation and memory interference. However, energetic and informational considerations suggest that potentiation should occur primarily during wake, when animals learn, and depression should occur during sleep. We measured 6920 synapses in mouse motor and sensory cortices using three-dimensional electron microscopy. The axon-spine interface (ASI) decreased ~18% after sleep compared with wake. This decrease was proportional to ASI size, which is indicative of scaling. Scaling was selective, sparing synapses that were large and lacked recycling endosomes. Similar scaling occurred for spine head volume, suggesting a distinction between weaker, more plastic synapses (~80%) and stronger, more stable synapses. These results support the hypothesis that a core function of sleep is to renormalize overall synaptic strength increased by wake.