A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor reduces REM sleep in the homing pigeon

Thomas Fuchs*, Jennifer J. Siegel, Jeffrey Burgdorf, Verner P. Bingman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Avian and mammalian 'rapid eye movement' sleep (REM sleep) resemble each other in several aspects. However, the question of whether REM sleep has a shared evolutionary ancestry in birds and mammals has yet to be thoroughly explored. The brain regions and neurotransmitter systems involved in the generation of mammalian REM sleep are phylogenetically ancient, and are also found in extant birds and reptiles. Several pharmacological experiments in birds indicate that similar neural substrates are involved in the regulation of avian and mammalian sleep. However, because the drugs used in these studies generally resulted in non-specific sleep loss, the neurochemical regulation of avian REM sleep in particular remains uncertain. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) zimelidine is known to reduce REM sleep in mammals. If avian REM sleep is similarly regulated by serotonin, it would be expected that an acute dose of a SSRI should also reduce avian REM sleep. To investigate a putative role of serotonin in the regulation of avian REM sleep, changes in sleep electroencephalogram (EEG) and behavior were recorded in five pigeons (Columba livia) after the administration of an acute dose of zimelidine. Our results demonstrate that the effects of zimelidine on avian REM sleep are comparable to those observed in mammals, indicating that serotonin may serve a similar function in the control of avian and mammalian REM sleep.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-581
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 30 2006


  • Avian REM sleep
  • Avian sleep
  • Pigeon
  • REM deprivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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