New research shows that preventing the gas nitric oxide from building up in the brain may ward off the sleep urge, according to two related papers published in the August 18 issue of the Journal of Neurochemistry and the September 5 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience.
The research findings show that the main message telling the brain to go to sleep probably does not come from neurons, but from neighboring glial cells, which appear to produce the greatest amounts of nitric oxide. Until recently, glial cells have been assumed to play only a supportive role in the brain. Rosenberg speculates that the molecules that turn on nitric oxide production in glial cells (as yet undiscovered) might provide additional targets for drug development.
“This understanding of sleep physiology should provide a completely new basis for the development of drugs to prevent excessive sleepiness or to promote sleep,” says study co-author Paul Rosenberg, MD, PhD, a researcher in the Neurobiology Program at Children’s Hospital Boston, and a physician in the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s and in the Sleep Disorders Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.