PLoS ONE (Jan 2019)

Eye state asymmetry during aquatic unihemispheric slow wave sleep in northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus).

  • Jessica M Kendall-Bar,
  • Alexei L Vyssotski,
  • Lev M Mukhametov,
  • Jerome M Siegel,
  • Oleg I Lyamin

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14, no. 5
p. e0217025


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Unihemispheric slow wave sleep (USWS) is a unique form of sleep in which one brain hemisphere maintains low voltage electrical activity indicative of waking while the opposite exhibits slow wave electrical activity indicative of sleep. USWS is present in several marine mammals and in some species of birds. One proposed biological function of USWS is to enable the animal to monitor the environment to detect predators or conspecifics. While asymmetrical eye state was often observed during behavioral sleep in birds and marine mammals, electrophysiological (electroencephalogram, EEG) correlates between the asymmetry of eye state and EEG of two cortical hemispheres have not been reliably established. This study examined the association between eye state and EEG activity during aquatic sleep in two subadult northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus), taking advantage of the simultaneous visibility of both eyes when the seals were in the prone position. We found that during USWS the eye contralateral to the sleeping hemisphere was closed on average 99.4±0.1% of the recording time. The eye contralateral to the waking hemisphere opened briefly for on average 1.9±0.1 sec with a rate of 8.2±1.0 per min. This eye was open on average 24.8±2.5% of the USWS time and it was closed no longer than 3 sec, on average 39.4±5.6% of the time. These data indicate that fur seals sleep in seawater by having intermittent visual monitoring. Our findings document the extent of visual monitoring of both eyes during USWS and support the idea that USWS allows intermittent visual vigilance. Thus, USWS serves two functions in the fur seal, facilitating movement and visual vigilance, which may also be the case in cetaceans.