Activity of identified spinal interneurons during wakefulness and sleep

Although they severely affect the lives of millions of individuals, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and rapid eye movement behavior disorder (RBD) are two sleep disorders that are not commonly diagnosed. Unlike more common conditions like sleepwalking, RLS and RBD movements occur during REM sleep or natural active sleep (AS), which are usually characterized by a state of atonia, or sleep paralysis. During AS, sensory transmissions to the brain are reduced; spinal inhibitory interneurons (neurons confined wholly within the spinal cord) are thought to underlie this reduction. However, virtually nothing is known on how these spinal interneurons are regulated. Dr. Yanshen Deng is investigating how the activity of certain spinal interneurons change as a consequence of alterations in behavioural state e.g. wakefulness vs. sleep. She is researching how these spinal interneurons are triggered to inhibit specific spinal sensory channels, and whether such interneurons are facilitated during AS. Yanshen’s research aims to advance basic sleep and spinal cord science and may help advancement of knowledge in sleep-related sensorimotor disorders such as RLS and RBD and pain following spinal cord injury.