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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Sleep disturbances in highly stress reactive mice: Modeling endophenotypes of major depression

Thomas Fenzl1*, Chadi Touma1, Christoph PN Romanowski1, Jörg Ruschel2, Florian Holsboer1, Rainer Landgraf1, Mayumi Kimura1 and Alexander Yassouridis1

Author Affiliations

1 Max-Planck-Institute of Psychiatry, Kraepelinstrasse 2, 80804 Munich, Germany

2 Max-Planck-Institute of Neurobiology, Am Klopferspitz 18, 82152 Martinsried, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:29  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-29

Published: 24 March 2011

Abstract

Background

Neuronal mechanisms underlying affective disorders such as major depression (MD) are still poorly understood. By selectively breeding mice for high (HR), intermediate (IR), or low (LR) reactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, we recently established a new genetic animal model of extremes in stress reactivity (SR). Studies characterizing this SR mouse model on the behavioral, endocrine, and neurobiological levels revealed several similarities with key endophenotypes observed in MD patients. HR mice were shown to have changes in rhythmicity and sleep measures such as rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) and non-REM sleep (NREMS) as well as in slow wave activity, indicative of reduced sleep efficacy and increased REMS. In the present study we were interested in how far a detailed spectral analysis of several electroencephalogram (EEG) parameters, including relevant frequency bands, could reveal further alterations of sleep architecture in this animal model. Eight adult males of each of the three breeding lines were equipped with epidural EEG and intramuscular electromyogram (EMG) electrodes. After recovery, EEG and EMG recordings were performed for two days.

Results

Differences in the amount of REMS and wakefulness and in the number of transitions between vigilance states were found in HR mice, when compared with IR and LR animals. Increased frequencies of transitions from NREMS to REMS and from REMS to wakefulness in HR animals were robust across the light-dark cycle. Detailed statistical analyses of spectral EEG parameters showed that especially during NREMS the power of the theta (6-9 Hz), alpha (10-15 Hz) and eta (16-22.75 Hz) bands was significantly different between the three breeding lines. Well defined distributions of significant power differences could be assigned to different times during the light and the dark phase. Especially during NREMS, group differences were robust and could be continuously monitored across the light-dark cycle.

Conclusions

The HR mice, i.e. those animals that have a genetic predisposition to hyper-activating their HPA axis in response to stressors, showed disturbed patterns in sleep architecture, similar to what is known from depressed patients. Significant alterations in several frequency bands of the EEG, which also seem to at least partly mimic clinical observations, suggest the SR mouse lines as a promising animal model for basic research of mechanisms underlying sleep impairments in MD.