The lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) of the diencephalon is crucially involved in controlling instinctive behavior such as sleep–wake cycle and feeding behavior. LHA is a heterogeneous structure that contains spatially intermingled, genetically distinct cell populations. Among LHA neurons, orexin/hypocretin (OX) neuron is the key cell type that promotes waking, and specific loss of OX neurons results in narcolepsy. Melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) containing neurons are known to be active during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and stimulation of these neurons promotes REM sleep. Here we review the classical and more recent findings in this field and discuss the molecular and cellular network organization of LHA neurons that could ultimately regulate the switch between wakefulness and general states of sleep.
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