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Half-asleep rats look wide awake

Parts of the brain can doze off while an animal remains active

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1:01pm, April 27, 2011

Some parts of a rat’s brain can fall asleep even while the animal plays and seems wide awake, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and their colleagues in Italy kept rats up four hours past the rodents’ usual bedtime. Even though the rats stayed awake, electrodes implanted in their brains showed that some brain cells went to sleep while neighboring ones remained active, the team reports in the April 28 Nature.

Rats with sleeping neurons were also prone to making mistakes during slightly difficult tasks, a finding that may have implications for sleep-deprived people.

“And it would be very insidious because nobody would be able to tell there was anything wrong with you,” says Giulio Tononi, the University of Wisconsin neuroscientist who led the work. The rats in the study weren’t “staring off into the void or anything,” he says.

The findings add to a growing bo

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