Partial homologies between sleep states in lizards, mammals, and birds suggest a complex evolution of sleep states in amniotes


It is crucial to determine whether rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and slow-wave sleep (SWS) (or non-REM sleep), identified in most mammals and birds, also exist in lizards, as they share a common ancestor with these groups. Recently, a study in the bearded dragon (P. vitticeps) reported states analogous to REM and SWS alternating in a surprisingly regular 80-s period, suggesting a common origin of the two sleep states across amniotes. We first confirmed these results in the bearded dragon with deep brain recordings and electro-oculogram (EOG) recordings. Then, to confirm a common origin and more finely characterize sleep in lizards, we developed a multiparametric approach in the tegu lizard, a species never recorded to date. We recorded EOG, electromyogram (EMG), heart rate, and local field potentials (LFPs) and included data on arousal thresholds, sleep deprivation, and pharmacological treatments with fluoxetine, a serotonin reuptake blocker that suppresses REM sleep in mammals. As in the bearded dragon, we demonstrate the existence of two sleep states in tegu lizards. However, no clear periodicity is apparent. The first sleep state (S1 sleep) showed high-amplitude isolated sharp waves, and the second sleep state (S2 sleep) displayed 15-Hz oscillations, isolated ocular movements, and a decrease in heart rate variability and muscle tone compared to S1. Fluoxetine treatment induced a significant decrease in S2 quantities and in the number of sharp waves in S1. Because S2 sleep is characterized by the presence of ocular movements and is inhibited by a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, as is REM sleep in birds and mammals, it might be analogous to this state. However, S2 displays a type of oscillation never previously reported and does not display a desynchronized electroencephalogram (EEG) as is observed in the bearded dragons, mammals, and birds. This suggests that the phenotype of sleep states and possibly their role can differ even between closely related species. Finally, our results suggest a common origin of two sleep states in amniotes. Yet, they also highlight a diversity of sleep phenotypes across lizards, demonstrating that the evolution of sleep states is more complex than previously thought.


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