Acetylcholine is a potent excitatory neurotransmitter, crucial for cognition and the control of alertness and arousal. Vigilance-specific recordings of the electroencephalogram (EEG) potently reflect thalamo-cortical and brainstem-cortical cholinergic activity that drives theta rhythms and task-specific cortical (de-synchronisation. Additionally, cholinergic projections from the basal forebrain act as a relay centre for the brainstem-cortical arousal system, but also directly modulate cortical activity, and thus promote wakefulness or rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep. Disease states such as sleep disorders, dementia and certain types of epilepsy are a further reflection of the potent cholinergic impact on CNS physiology and function, and highlight the relevance and inter-dependence of sleep and EEG. With novel technologies and computational tools now becoming available, advanced mechanistic insights may be gained and new avenues explored for diagnostics and therapeutics.
Behav Brain Res. 2011 Aug 10;221(2):499-504. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2011.01.017. Epub 2011 Jan 14.