During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, anti-gravity muscle tone and bodily movements are mostly absent, because somatic motoneurons are inhibited by descending inhibitory pathways. Recent studies showed that glycine/GABA neurons in the ventromedial medulla (VMM; GlyVMMneurons) play an important role in generating muscle atonia during REM sleep (REM-atonia). However, how these REM-atonia-inducing neurons interconnect with other neuronal populations has been unknown. In the present study, we first identified a specific subpopulation of GlyVMMneurons that play an important role in induction of REM-atonia by virus vector-mediated tracing in male mice in which glycinergic neurons expressed Cre recombinase. We found these neurons receive direct synaptic input from neurons in several brain stem regions, including glutamatergic neurons in the sublaterodorsal tegmental nucleus (SLD; GluSLDneurons). Silencing this circuit by specifically expressing tetanus toxin light chain (TeTNLC) resulted in REM sleep without atonia. This manipulation also caused a marked decrease in time spent in cataplexy-like episodes (CLEs) when applied to narcoleptic orexin-ataxin-3 mice. We also showed that GlyVMMneurons play an important role in maintenance of sleep. This present study identified a population of glycinergic neurons in the VMM that are commonly involved in REM-atonia and cataplexy.
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