In spite of the uniform appearance of sleep as a behavior, the sleeping brain does not produce electrical activities in unison. Different types of brain rhythms arise during sleep and vary between layers, areas, or from one functional system to another. Local heterogeneity of such activities, here referred to as local sleep, overturns fundamental tenets of sleep as a globally regulated state. However, little is still known about the neuronal circuits involved and how they can generate their own specifically-tuned sleep patterns. NREM sleep patterns emerge in the brain from interplay of activity between thalamic and cortical networks. Within this fundamental circuitry, it now turns out that the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN) acts as a key player in local sleep control. This is based on a marked heterogeneity of the TRN in terms of its cellular and synaptic architecture, which leads to a regional diversity of NREM sleep hallmarks, such as sleep spindles, delta waves and slow oscillations. This provides first evidence for a subcortical circuit as a determinant of cortical local sleep features. Here, we review novel cellular and functional insights supporting TRN heterogeneity and how these elements come together to account for local NREM sleep. We also discuss open questions arising from these studies, focusing on mechanisms of sleep regulation and the role of local sleep in brain plasticity and cognitive functions.
Vantomme, G., Osorio-Forero, A., Lüthi, A., & Fernandez, L. M. J. (2019). Regulation of local sleep by the thalamic reticular nucleus. Frontiers in Neuroscience. Frontiers Media S.A. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.00576