Rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep is associated with intense neuronal activity, ocular saccades, muscular atonia and dreaming. The function of REM sleep remains elusive and its neural correlates have not been characterized precisely in man. Here we use positron emission tomography and statistical parametric mapping to study the brain state associated with REM sleep in humans. We report a group study of seven subjects who maintained steady REM sleep during brain scanning and recalled dreams upon awakening. The results show that regional cerebral blood flow is positively correlated with REM sleep in pontine tegmentum, left thalamus, both amygdaloid complexes, anterior cingulate cortex and right parietal operculum. Negative correlations between regional cerebral blood flow and REM sleep are observed bilaterally, in a vast area of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, in parietal cortex (supramarginal gyrus) as well as in posterior cingulate cortex and precuneus. Given the role of the amygdaloid complexes in the acquisition of emotionally influenced memories, the pattern of activation in the amygdala and the cortical areas provides a biological basis for the processing of some types of memory during REM sleep.
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