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How sleep helps to process emotions – ScienceDaily

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Researchers from the Department of Neurology at the University of Bern and the University Hospital of Bern have identified how the brain sorts emotions during sleep to consolidate the storage of positive emotions while weakening the consolidation of negative ones. Work expands the importance of sleep in mental health and opens up new avenues of therapeutic strategies.

Rapid eye movement (REM or paradoxical) sleep is a unique and mysterious state of sleep during which most dreams occur along with intense emotional content. How and why these emotions are reactivated is unclear. The prefrontal cortex combines many of these emotions during wakefulness, but looks paradoxically calm during fast sleep. “Our goal was to understand the underlying mechanism and functions of such an amazing phenomenon,” says Professor Antoine Adamantidis of the Department of Biomedical Research (DBMR) at the University of Bern and the Department of Neurology at the University of Innspel Hospital, University Hospital of Bern.

Emotion handling, especially the distinction between danger and safety, is critical to animal survival. In humans, overly negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety reactions, lead to pathological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In Europe, about 15% of the population suffers from constant anxiety and severe mental illness. The research team, led by Antoine Adamantidis, now provides insight into how the brain helps boost positive emotions and weaken severely negative or traumatic emotions during fast sleep. This study was published in the journal Science.

Double mechanism

Researchers first taught mice to recognize auditory stimuli related to safety and others related to danger (aversive stimuli). The activity of neurons in the brains of mice during sleep-wake cycles was then recorded. In this way, the researchers were able to map different areas of the cell and determine how emotional memories are transformed during fast sleep.

Neurons consist of a cell body (soma) that combines information from dendrites (inputs) and sends signals to other neurons through their axons (outputs). The results showed that the catfish cells are silenced and their dendrites are activated. “This means the separation of the two cell divisions, in other words, the catfish are asleep and the dendrites have woken up,” explains Adamantidis. This denouement is important because the strong activity of dendrites allows you to encode both danger and security emotions, while catfish inhibition completely blocks the output of the chain during fast sleep. In other words, the brain contributes to the distinction between safety and danger in dendrites, but blocks the overreaction to emotions, particularly danger.

The advantage in survival

According to researchers, the coexistence of both mechanisms contributes to the stability and survival of organisms: “This bidirectional mechanism is necessary to optimize the distinction between dangerous and safe signals,” – says Matthias Aimee of DBMR, the first author of the study. If this discrimination is absent in people and excessive fear reactions occur, it can lead to anxiety disorders. The findings are particularly important for pathological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, in which the injury is excessively consolidated in the prefrontal cortex every day during sleep.

A breakthrough in sleep medicine

These findings pave the way for a better understanding of emotion processing during sleep in humans and open up new perspectives for therapeutic purposes for the treatment of maladaptive treatment of traumatic memories such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their early sleep-dependent consolidation. Additional acute or chronic mental health problems that can cause this somatodendritic weaning during sleep include acute and chronic stress, anxiety, depression, panic or even anhedonia, inability to feel pleasure. Sleep research and sleep medicine have long been the focus of research at the University of Bern and the Insel Hospital of the University of Bern. “We hope that our findings will be of interest not only to patients but also to the general public,” says Adamantidis.

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Materials provided University of Bern. Note: Content can be edited by style and length.

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