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Free Content Human amygdala activation during rapid eye movements of rapid eye movement sleep: an intracranial study

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The amygdaloid complex plays a crucial role in processing emotional signals and in the formation of emotional memories. Neuroimaging studies have shown human amygdala activation during rapid eye movement sleep (REM). Stereotactically implanted electrodes for presurgical evaluation in epileptic patients provide a unique opportunity to directly record amygdala activity. The present study analysed amygdala activity associated with REM sleep eye movements on the millisecond scale. We propose that phasic activation associated with rapid eye movements may provide the amygdala with endogenous excitation during REM sleep. Standard polysomnography and stereo‐electroencephalograph (SEEG) were recorded simultaneously during spontaneous sleep in the left amygdala of four patients. Time–frequency analysis and absolute power of gamma activity were obtained for 250 ms time windows preceding and following eye movement onset in REM sleep, and in spontaneous waking eye movements in the dark. Absolute power of the 44–48 Hz band increased significantly during the 250 ms time window after REM sleep rapid eye movements onset, but not during waking eye movements. Transient activation of the amygdala provides physiological support for the proposed participation of the amygdala in emotional expression, in the emotional content of dreams and for the reactivation and consolidation of emotional memories during REM sleep, as well as for next‐day emotional regulation, and its possible role in the bidirectional interaction between REM sleep and such sleep disorders as nightmares, anxiety and post‐traumatic sleep disorder. These results provide unique, direct evidence of increased activation of the human amygdala time‐locked to REM sleep rapid eye movements.
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Keywords: Gamma activity; limbic system; saccades; stereo EEG

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2016

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