ABC | Swammerdam lecture - Giulio Tononi
The burden of wake and the reasons of sleep
Giulio Tononi, MD, PhD
University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
Dr. Tononi’s main contribution in the study of sleep has been the development of a comprehensive hypothesis about the function of sleep, the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis. According to the hypothesis, sleep serves to renormalize synaptic strength, counterbalancing a net increase of synaptic strength due to plasticity during wakefulness.
On the basis of the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis, Dr. Tononi and his long-term collaborator Dr. Chiara Cirelli have shown (using molecular and electrophysiological markers in both invertebrates, rodents, and humans) that synaptic strength does in fact increase during wake and decrease during sleep in much of the brain. Moreover, using a combination of genetic, molecular, and electrophysiological approaches, they have found that sleep need is increased by the amount of plastic changes during wake and that sleep can be induced on a local basis by learning and plasticity. Studies in humans also show that sleep slow waves are important for brain restoration and performance enhancements, with implications for the understanding of sleep disorders (e.g., parasomnias), the neurobiology of mood disorders, and the beneficial effects of sleep deprivation on depression.
Dr. Tononi’s laboratory has also demonstrated that patients with schizophrenia show a characteristic reduction of sleep spindles—a hallmark of the sleep EEG—pointing to an impairment of a specific region of the thalamus that could account for many of the symptoms.
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