Researchers at the University of Arkansas have discovered some neurons in the reticular activating system, a region of the brain that controls sleep-wake states, are electrically coupled.

“By finding drugs for increasing the electrical coupling of these cells, we create a stronger pathway for potential sleep-wake control,” said study author Edgar Garcia-Rill, PhD, a professor of neurobiology and developmental sciences in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of the Center for Translational Neuroscience.

“The possible clinical applications range from the ability to wake people up from anesthesia more rapidly, to stimulating someone in a comatose state to awaken if there are enough of these cells left alive to couple them,” Garcia-Rill said.

The researchers found that neurons in the SubCoeruleus nucleus, a part of the brain believed to control the phase of deep sleep known as rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, joined in a way that allowed them to transmit electrical activity across the cells. The activity occurred spontaneously or could be induced by chemical agents that induce REM sleep.