Elementary Central Nervous System Arousal

  • M. Kilinc
  • D. P. Calderon
  • I. Tabansky
  • E. M. Martin
  • D. W. Pfaff
Living reference work entry

Latest version View entry history


Wakefulness is a state that an animal can consciously sense internal drives and external stimuli and actively respond to environment. Fundamental endeavors such as finding food and avoiding predators require conscious and wakeful behaviors in order to improve chance of survival. Elementary CNS arousal drives shift between states of sleep and wakefulness, to orient an animal towards important stimuli and to maintain wakefulness in the absence of important external stimuli. Specific motives and incentives explain why an animal does one thing rather than another. Arousal is modulated by circadian, homeostatic, executive/cognitive, emotional, and environmental factors, which can be simply summarized as internal drives and environmental pressures. Both conceptually and experimentally, we know that an animal’s level of arousal can be variable across minutes, days, seasons, and years. These variations are associated with behavioral characteristics such as mood, feelings, temperament, and overall cognition. While arousal’s role in promoting sleep or wakefulness is one of its most obvious, and well-studied, effects on behavior, the more subtle shifts between quiet waking, alertness and attention are equally important, with potential clinical manifestations.


Acetylcholine Adenosine Basal forebrain Brainstem CNS arousal Dopamine (DA) Electroencephalography (EEG) Electromyography (EMG) Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) Glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) Histamine (HA) Hypocretin Hypothalamus Neuropeptide S Noradrenaline/norepinephrine Serotonin Thalamus 


  1. Jones BE (2008) Modulation of cortical activation and behavioral arousal by cholinergic and orexinergic systems. Mol Biophys Mech Arousal Alert Atten 1129:26–34Google Scholar
  2. Kow LM, Pfaff DW (1987) Responses of ventromedial hypothalamic neurons in vitro to norepinephrine – dependence on dose and receptor type. Brain Res 413(2):220–228CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Martin EM, Pavlides C, Pfaff D (2010) Multimodal sensory responses of nucleus reticularis gigantocellularis and the responses’ relation to cortical and motor activation. J Neurophysiol 103(5):2326–2338CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Pfaff D (2006) Brain arousal and information theory: neural and genetic mechanisms. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MACrossRefGoogle Scholar

Further Readings

  1. Bear M, Connors B, Paradiso M (2006) Neuroscience: exploring the brain, 3rd edn. Lippincott, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Coull JT (1998) Neural correlates of attention and arousal: Insights from electrophysiology, functional neuroimaging and psychopharmacology. Prog Neurobiol 55(4):343–361CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Hudson AE, Calderon DP, Pfaff DW, Proekt A (2014) Recovery of consciousness is mediated by a network of discrete metastable activity states. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111(25):9283–9288CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Martin EM, Devidze N, Shelley DN, Westberg L, Fontaine C, Pfaff DW (2011) Molecular and neuroanatomical characterization of single neurons in the mouse medullary gigantocellular reticular nucleus. J Comp Neurol 519(13):2574–2593CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. McCormick DA, Bal T (1997) Sleep and arousal: thalamocortical mechanisms. Annu Rev Neurosci 20:185–215CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Oken BS, Salinsky MC, Elsas SM (2006) Vigilance, alertness, or sustained attention: physiological basis and measurement. Clin Neurophysiol 117(9):1885–1901CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Pfaff DW, Martin EM, Faber D (2012) Origins of arousal: roles for medullary reticular neurons. Trends Neurosci 35(8):468–476CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Proekt A, Banavar JR, Maritan A, Pfaff DW (2012) Scale invariance in the dynamics of spontaneous behavior. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109(26):10564–10569CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Quinkert AW, Vimal V, Weil ZM, Reeke GN, Schiff ND, Banavar JR, Pfaff DW (2011) Quantitative descriptions of generalized arousal, an elementary function of the vertebrate brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:15617–15623CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Rosenwasser AM (2009) Functional neuroanatomy of sleep and circadian rhythms. Brain Res Rev 61(2):281–306CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Saper CB, Scammell TE, Lu J (2005) Hypothalamic regulation of sleep and circadian rhythms. Nature 437(7063):1257–1263CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Schiff ND (2010) Recovery of consciousness after brain injury: a mesocircuit hypothesis. Trends Neurosci 33(1):1–9CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Silver R, LeSauter J (2008) Circadian and homeostatic factors in arousal. Mol Biophys Mech Arousal Alert Atten 1129:263–274Google Scholar
  14. Steriade M, Paré D (2007) Gating in cerebral networks. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Kilinc
    • 1
  • D. P. Calderon
    • 2
  • I. Tabansky
    • 2
  • E. M. Martin
    • 3
  • D. W. Pfaff
    • 3
  1. 1.Rumbaugh Lab, Department of NeuroscienceThe Scripps Research InstituteJupiterUSA
  2. 2.Pfaff LaboratoryRockefeller UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Laboratory of Neurobiology and BehaviorThe Rockefeller UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations