• acetylcholine;
  • laterodorsal tegmental nucleus;
  • pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus;
  • REM sleep;
  • urotensin receptors;
  • urotensin II;
  • urotensin II-related peptide

The discovery of novel biologically active peptides has led to an explosion in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie the regulation of sleep and wakefulness. Urotensin II (UII), a peptide originally isolated from fish and known for its strong cardiovascular effects in mammals, is another surprising candidate in the regulatory network of sleep. The UII receptor was found to be expressed by cholinergic neurons of laterodorsal and pedunculopontine tegmental nuclei, an area known to be of utmost importance for the on- and offset of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Recently, physiological data have provided further evidence that UII is indeed a modulator of REM sleep. The peptide directly excites cholinergic mesopontine neurons and increases the rate of REM sleep episodes. These new results and its emerging behavioral effects establish UII as a neurotransmitter/neuromodulator in mammals and should spark further interest into the neurobiological role of the peptide.