Neurologists have long wondered why so-called “dopaminergic” (dopamine being a brain neurotransmitter) treatments help restless leg syndrome (RLS), but not the sleep loss associated with that disorder; even as, at least from the patient’s perspective, this lack of sleep may just be no big deal: While research has shown that RLS patients sleep on average a little over five hours each night, the typical RLS patients does not report excessive sleepiness during the day. It may be that this apparent arousal component of RLS is due to the effects of “glutamatergic” (glutamate and glutamine being two other brain neurotransmitters) activity.
This month’s issue of the journal “Neurology” discusses the results of an investigation into brain glutamatergic activity. The researchers studied the ratio of total glutamate and glutamine concentration to the total creatine, their hypotheses being that the ratio would be higher for RLS patients, and the ratio would directly correlate with insomnia during the sleep period.
The use of MR spectroscopy examined the brains of the RLS patients, comparing this image to a control group. Some patients underwent a sleep study also, and researchers found a positive correlation between brain glutamatergic activity and arousal, and/or the amount of time awake during what should have been a sleep period. In fact, glutamatergic activity also correlated with things such as waking after the patient finally began to sleep, and just how long it takes for that patient to fall asleep.