Cold exposure impairs dark-pulse capacity to induce REM sleep in the albino rat

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In the albino rat, a REM sleep (REMS) onset can be induced with a high probability and a short latency when the light is suddenly turned off (dark pulse, DP) during non-REM sleep (NREMS). The aim of this study was to investigate to what extent DP delivery could overcome the integrative thermoregulatory mechanisms that depress REMS occurrence during exposure to low ambient temperature (Ta). To this aim, the efficiency of a non-rhythmical repetitive DP (3 min each) delivery during the first 6-h light period of a 12 h: 12 h light–dark cycle in inducing REMS was studied in the rat, through the analysis of electroencephalogram, electrocardiogram, hypothalamic temperature and motor activity at different Tas. The results showed that DP delivery triggers a transition from NREMS to REMS comparable to that which occurs spontaneously. However, the efficiency of DP delivery in inducing REMS was reduced during cold exposure to an extent comparable with that observed in spontaneous REMS occurrence. Such impairment was associated with low Delta activity and high sympathetic tone when DPs were delivered. Repetitive DP administration increased REMS amount during the delivery period and a subsequent negative REMS rebound was observed. In conclusion, DP delivery did not overcome the integrative thermoregulatory mechanisms that depress REMS in the cold. These results underline the crucial physiological meaning of the mutual exclusion of thermoregulatory activation and REMS occurrence, and support the hypothesis that the suspension of the central control of body temperature is a prerequisite for REMS occurrence.

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