Cellular Mechanisms of Thalamocortical Oscillations in the Sleeping Brain



Oscillatory activity is an emerging property of the thalamocortical system. The patterns and dominant frequencies of these oscillations depend on the brain’s functional state. Normal oscillatory activities include slow (0.1–15 Hz, present mainly during slow-wave sleep or anesthesia), fast (20–60 Hz), and ultrafast (100–600 Hz) activities. The fast and ultrafast activities are present in various states of vigilance and frequently coexist with slower rhythms. Pathological oscillations within the thalamocortical system take place in a form of electrographic seizures. Thus, the same brain network in different conditions generates diverse forms of oscillations. Each oscillation is generated by a particular set of intrinsic neuronal currents, synaptic interactions, and extracellular factors. Little is known about the functional roles of neural oscillations, although neural rhythms are believed to serve important roles, such as the coordination of activity between regions of the nervous system during wakefulness, or the facilitation of memory consolidation during sleep. Slow oscillatory activities—either normal or paroxysmal—are usually associated with a loss of conscious perception. A number of recent studies suggest that slow brain rhythms during sleep mediate the processes of synaptic plasticity and thus could contribute to the memory formation. Faster oscillatory activities are associated with cognitive processes and are involved in the transmission of information in thalamocortical pathways.

This chapter provides: (a) a brief description of thalamocortical network architecture; (b) a brief description of intrinsic and synaptic currents contributing to the generation of oscillations in the thalamocortical system; (c) a classification, description, and mechanisms of the main sleep oscillations generated within the thalamocortical system: slow-wave oscillation, delta, and spindles; and lastly (d) a brief description of functional role of various oscillations generated by the thalamocortical system. We present an extensive review of the literature as well as some new original observations on the cellular mechanisms of the thalamocortical oscillations in the sleeping brain. A synthesis of the current knowledge on the functional role of those landmark sleep oscillations reinforces the view of their critical role in synaptic plasticity that affects memory consolidation, a topic that extends beyond the realm of sleep medicine, given its paramount importance in neurological and societal aspects.


Sleep Wake Thalamus Cortex Oscillations Plasticity 



This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the US National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the US Office of Naval Research (MURI program).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and NeuroscienceCERVO Brain Research CenterQuébecCanada
  2. 2.Department of NeuroscienceUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.Department of MedicineUniversity of California, San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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