Using extracellular single-unit recordings alone and in combination with neurobiotin juxtacellular labeling and histamine immunohistochemistry, we have identified, for the first time in nonanesthetized, head-restrained mice, histamine neurons in the tuberomammillary nuclei of the posterior hypothalamus. They are all characterized by triphasic broad action potentials. They are active only during wakefulness, and their activity is related to a high level of vigilance. During waking states, they display a slow (<10 Hz) tonic, repetitive, irregular firing pattern. Their activity varies in the different waking states, being lowest during quiet waking, moderate during active waking, and highest during attentive waking. They cease firing during quiet waking before the onset of EEG synchronization, the EEG sign of sleep (drowsy state), and remain silent during slow-wave sleep and paradoxical (or rapid eye movement) sleep. They exhibit a pronounced delay in firing during transitions from sleep to wakefulness or remain quiescent during the same transitions if the animals are not fully alert. They either respond with a long delay, or do not respond, to an arousing stimulus if the stimulus does not elicit an overt alert state. These data support the view that the activity of histaminergic tuberomammillary neurons plays an important role, not in the induction of wakefulness per se, but in the maintenance of the high level of vigilance necessary for cognitive processes. Conversely, cessation of their activity may play an important role in both the initiation and maintenance of sleep.
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