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Brain Neurons Found to Regulate Levels of Alertness Including Sleep, According to New Hebrew University Study

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A new study by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers revealed that people become less responsive to surroundings when certain neurons found in the claustrum region of the brain are more active. These neurons control levels of alertness from deep sleep to waking behaviour.

According to a new study published in Nature, activity of these same neurons also defines the level of our engagement with sensory information when we perform tasks. The study provides new understanding of how attentiveness works in the brain and could lead to new ways to treat various brain related disorders.

“Our study provides compelling evidence that claustrum neurons act as gatekeepers of engagement, regulating how likely perception is to drive action,” says lead researcher Professor Ami Citri of the Hebrew University Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences (ELSC). “Understanding these mechanisms could offer new insights into a wide range of neurological and psychiatric disorders characterised by impaired impulse control such as ADHD, OCD, drug addiction, schizophrenia and sleep disorders.”

In the study, the researchers recorded the activity of neurons in mice claustrum during an attention-demanding task. They discovered that increased activity in these neurons reduces sensory responsiveness and reduces impulsivity. Performing similar experiments during sleep also identified a role for claustrum neurons in supporting uninterrupted sleep.

Conversely, lower activity of claustrum neurons was linked to hyper-engagement and impulsive errors. In fact, by enhancing the activity of these neurons, the researchers could reduce both impulsive errors when mice perform a task, as well as the probability that mice will awake in response to sensory stimulation. These results highlight the claustrum’s regulatory function during different arousal states.

“This study enhances our understanding of the claustrum’s function in brain processes and opens potential pathways for addressing issues related to attention disorders and sleep disturbances,” says Professor Citri. “It provides valuable insight into how specific neural pathways influence behavioral states, advancing our knowledge of the complex interactions between sleep and alertness, and could lead to targeted therapeutic interventions.”

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