Basal forebrain parvalbumin neurons mediate arousals from sleep induced by hypercarbia or auditory stimuli
Brief arousals from sleep in patients with sleep apnea and other disorders prevent restful sleep, and contribute to cognitive, metabolic and physiologic dysfunction. Little is currently known about which neural systems mediate these brief arousals, hindering the development of treatments. The basal forebrain (BF) receives inputs from many nuclei of the ascending arousal system. These inputs include the brainstem parabrachial neurons which promote arousal in response to elevated blood carbon dioxide levels, as seen in sleep apnea. Optical inhibition of the terminals of parabrachial neurons in the BF impairs cortical arousals to hypercarbia, but which cell types within the BF mediate cortical arousals in response to hypercarbia or other sensory stimuli is unknown. Here using optogenetic techniques in mice, we show that BF parvalbumin (PV) neurons fulfill several criteria for a system mediating brief arousals from sleep. Optical stimulation of BF PV neurons during the light period, when mice normally sleep, caused rapid transitions to wakefulness and increased wake bout durations. Unlike many other ascending arousal systems, arousals induced by stimulation of BF PV neurons were brief, resulting in only a small (13.6%) increase in the total amount of wakefulness. Bilateral optical inhibition of BF PV neurons increased the latency to arousal produced by hypercarbia or auditory stimuli. Thus, BF PV neurons are an important component of the brain circuitry which generates brief arousals from sleep in response to internal and external sensory stimuli.