Scientists have figured out how the brain processes emotions during REM sleep

(ORDO NEWS) — Swiss scientists have determined which mechanisms provide the processing of emotions that occurs during REM sleep in the prefrontal cortex. The discovered processes make it possible to optimize emotional reactions to various stress factors.

Researchers from the University of Bern and the University Hospital of Bern (Switzerland) have figured out how the brain processes emotions during REM sleep in order to consolidate accumulated positive experiences, but weaken negative and traumatic ones.

During REM sleep (rapid eye movement phase or REM sleep) we see dreams, often they are emotionally charged. It is still unclear how and why these emotions are reactivated.

At the same time, the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in the regulation of emotions during wakefulness, is not so active during REM sleep.

Processing emotions is essential for mental health. Thus, the accumulation of negative experiences, such as fear and anxiety, can lead to the development of mental disorders.

To investigate emotional reactivation, the scientists trained mice to recognize auditory stimuli associated with dangerous and safe experimental situations. They then recorded the activity of individual neurons in the rodent brain during sleep and wakefulness.

As a result, it was possible to map different regions of neurons and determine how emotion-related memories are transformed during REM sleep.

Neurons consist of a body (soma) that receives information through dendrites and transmits it further through axons. The results of the study showed unusual activity of pyramidal neurons in the prefrontal cortex during REM sleep. Some somas of neurons remained inactive, while dendrites overactivated.

Artificial suppression of REM-specific dendritic activity resulted in mice no longer distinguishing between dangerous and safe stimuli. Thus, the activity of the dendrites encoded emotions and differences between them. The soma of the neuron did not pass this signal further if it was too strong.

This mechanism is necessary to optimize responses to incentives. In its absence, people may experience anxiety and depressive disorders.

Therefore, the results of the study open the way to a better understanding of the processing of emotions during sleep and the prospect of finding therapeutic targets for the treatment of inadequate memory processing that occurs in post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic stress, anxiety, depression and panic.

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