- Medicine; Neuroscience
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The mammalian circadian and sleep-wake systems are closely aligned through their coordinated regulation of daily activity patterns. Although they differ in their anatomical organization and physiological processes, they utilize overlapping regulatory mechanisms that include an assortment of proteins and molecules interacting within the extracellular space. These extracellular factors include proteases that interact with soluble proteins, membrane-attached receptors and the extracellular matrix; and cell adhesion molecules that can form complex scaffolds connecting adjacent neurons, astrocytes and their respective intracellular cytoskeletal elements. Astrocytes also participate in the dynamic regulation of both systems through modulating neuronal appositions, the extracellular space and/or through release of gliotransmitters that can further contribute to the extracellular signaling processes. Together, these extracellular elements create a system that integrates rapid neurotransmitter signaling across longer time scales and thereby adjust neuronal signaling to reflect the daily fluctuations fundamental to both systems. Here we review what is known about these extracellular processes, focusing specifically on areas of overlap between the two systems. We also highlight questions that still need to be addressed. Although we know many of the extracellular players, far more research is needed to understand the mechanisms through which they modulate the circadian and sleep-wake systems.