3rd March 2008 – How Does the Brain Keep Us Awake During the Day…

… and how does it keep us thin?

Dr Denis Burdakov from Cambridge University will help us understand how the brain keeps us awake and conscious during the day.

It was until recently mysterious why in the sleep disorder narcolepsy people suddenly fall asleep in the middle of doing other things. We now know that special neurons located deep in the brain play a part. While only a few in number, these neurons turn out to control almost the whole of the brain, setting global brain state and the level of altertness. They are active during the day and silent during the night and malfunction of this system causes narcolepsy in mice, rats, dogs and humans.

More recent discoveries indicate that these cells, called orexin neurons, can alter their activity depending on the amount of hormones and nutrients in the blood. So it turns out that these cells can also determine when and how much we eat. Dr Burdakov will explore how orexin neurons operate, which is one of the big questions in neuroscience related some of the field’s biggest mysteries, sleep, consciousness, and appetite.

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