Asleep but aware?

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HighlightsSleep induces loss of behavioural control and drastic decrease of self-awareness.During paradoxical sleep (PS) sleeper was able to indicate nociceptive perception.Neuronal networks implicated in voluntary preparation of movements were reactivated.Pre-activation of mid-frontal networks was determinant for the behaviour occurrence.External information processing is possible without change in global sleep state.Despite sleep-induced drastic decrease of self-awareness, human sleep allows some cognitive processing of external stimuli. Here we report the fortuitous observation in a patient who, while being recorded with intra-cerebral electrodes, was able, during paradoxical sleep, to reproduce a motor behaviour previously performed at wake to consciously indicate her perception of nociceptive stimulation. Noxious stimuli induced behavioural responses only if they reached the cortex during periods when mid-frontal networks (pre-SMA, pre-motor cortex) were pre-activated. Sensory responses in the opercular cortex and insula were identical whether the noxious stimulus was to evoke or not a motor behaviour; conversely, the responses in mid-anterior cingulate were specifically enhanced for stimuli yielding motor responses. Neuronal networks implicated in the voluntary preparation of movements may be reactivated during paradoxical sleep, but only if behavioural-relevant stimuli reach the cortex during specific periods of “motor awareness”. These local activation appeared without any global sleep stage change. This observation opens the way to further studies on the currently unknown capacity of the sleeping brain to interact meaningfully with its environment.

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