Several bacterial cell wall components such as peptidoglycan and muramyl peptide are potent inducers of mammalian slow-wave sleep when exogenously administered to freely behaving animals. It has been proposed that the native gut microflora may serve as a quasi-endogenous pool of somnogenic bacterial cell wall products given their quantity and close proximity to the intestinal portal. This proposal suggests that deliberate manipulation of the host’s intestinal flora may elicit changes in host sleep behavior. To test this possibility, we evaluated 24 h of sleep-wake behavior after depleting the gut microbiota with a 14 d broad-spectrum antibiotic regimen containing high doses of ampicillin, metronidazole, neomycin, and vancomycin. High-throughput sequencing of the bacterial 16S rDNA gene was used to confirm depletion of fecal bacteria and sleep-wake vigilance states were determined using videosomnography techniques based on previously established behavioral criteria shown to highly correlate with standard polysomnography-based methods. Additionally, considering that germ-free and antibiotic-treated mice have been earlier shown to display increased locomotor activity, and since locomotor activity has been used as a reliable proxy of sleep, we suspected that the elevated locomotor activity previously reported in these animals may reflect an unreported reduction in sleep behavior. To examine this potential relationship, we also quantified locomotor activity on a representative subsample of the same 24 h of video recordings using the automated video-tracking software ANY-maze. We found that antibiotic-induced depletion of the gut microbiota reduced nocturnal sleep, but not diurnal sleep. Likewise, antibiotic-treated mice showed increased nocturnal locomotor activity, but not diurnal locomotor activity. Taken together, these results support a link between the gut microbiome and nocturnal sleep and locomotor physiology in adult mice. Additionally, our findings indicate that antibiotics may be insomnogenic via their ability to diminish gut-derived bacterial somnogens. Given that antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in human medicine, these findings have important implications for clinical practice with respect to prolonged antibiotic therapy, insomnia, and other idiopathic sleep-wake and circadian-rhythm disorders affecting an estimated 50-70 million people in the United States alone.
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