What is the role of rapid eye movement (REM) in the pathophysiology of narcolepsy?

Updated: Sep 04, 2019
  • Author: Sagarika Nallu, MD; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Dysfunction and inappropriate regulation of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep are thought to exist in narcolepsy. [21] Neuroanatomic control of REM sleep appears to be localized to the pontine reticular activating system.

The brain contains REM-on cells, which fire selectively during REM sleep periods, and REM-off cells, for which the converse holds true. Most REM-on cells function through cholinergic transmission, whereas REM-off cells are noradrenergic or serotonergic. In narcolepsy, monoamine-dependent inhibition of REM-on cells may be defective.

Symptoms can be viewed as REM sleep components intruding into wakeful states. For example, cataplexy and sleep paralysis represent an intrusion of REM sleep atonia, whereas hallucinations represent an intrusion of dreams.

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