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Perchance, Two Genes

Using CRISPR-based gene editing, Riken researchers reporting in Cell Reports have narrowed in on two acetylcholine receptor-coding genes — Chrm1 and Chrm3 — that seem to contribute to dream-related rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in mammals.

The team systematically knocked out mouse acetylcholine receptor genes, Stephanie Pappas explains in Live Science, uncovering a role for the Chrm1 and Chrm3 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor genes in sleep duration and REM sleep. On the other hand, the nicotinic family of acetylcholine receptors "didn't have much to do with sleep."

"Understanding the specific receptors that control sleep can inform new treatments for psychiatric disorders like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, which is often marked by vivid nightmares," Pappas writes.

In Vice's Motherboard, Daniel Oberhaus says the study clarifies some aspects of acetylcholine signaling in REM sleep. "Due to the abundance of acetylcholine released during both wakefulness and sleep and the complexity of the neural networks regulating sleep," he writes, it was previously difficult to make out "just which acetylcholine receptors were involved in regulating REM sleep."