A recent study presented at the annual 2017 Canadian Association for Neuroscience investigates how dreams can help predict brain disorders. Dr. Peever and his team conducted the study hoping to shed more light on the correlation of dreams and brain disorders. Some previous studies showed that brain cells responsible for our dream state were the so-called REM-active neurons. Scientists have proved that dreams occur when we are having Rapid Eye Movements (REM) and our brainstem is responsible for controlling our dreams. The brainstem communicates with the hypothalamus resulting in sleep or wakefulness. When one is dreaming, REM-active neurons are still capable of transmitting signals which help predict early instances of brain disorders.
A chain of chemical reactions occurs whilst we are sleeping, which reduces the level of arousal of the hypothalamus and brainstem. The chemical reaction is started by REM-active neurons releasing GABA neurotransmitter. REM-active neurons in the SubC region of the brain are responsible for the production of GABA which causes sleep paralysis. Dr. Peever explained that when these neurons are switched on, they result into paralysis. Brain disorders exhibit the same symptoms as it affects movement and speech.
During our dreams the brainstem sends signals to the muscles, but we do not act out due to the presence of GABA neurotransmitter. This recent research hopes to show that GABA is responsible for neural diseases such as cataplexy, REM behavior disorder and narcolepsy. People suffering from narcolepsy do not only experience muscle paralysis when they are asleep but also when they are awake. Patients with narcolepsy will lose muscle control just before they fall asleep, which is contributed by the production of GABA neurotransmitter. Dr. Peever was investigating what exactly contributes to this condition and how early detection can help in curing brain disorders.
During the course of their study, Dr. Peever and his team made a shocking discovery. They discovered that brain disorders tend to target regions of the brain that are REM-active. The degeneration of brain cells occurs in REM-active regions, resulting in poor control of our muscles. This problem is more likely to be noted with the elderly and could be explaining why dementia prevalent in this age group.
In America, about 50,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson's every year. Dr. Peever suggested that neuroprotective therapies can help reduce the progress of brain disorders. This study helped shed some more light on so far incurable brain disorders and how our sleep patterns can be used in early detection of such disorders.