Study: changes in the brain after sleep deprivation

Study: changes in the brain after sleep deprivation

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Lack of sleep leads to molecular changes in our brain
Lack of sleep is associated with a variety of health problems, but there are also therapeutic uses of sleep deprivation. This is based on changes in the brain that occur during sleep deprivation. In a recent study, scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich, together with researchers from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), have shown which molecular changes in the human brain are caused by unusually long waking phases. The researchers published their results in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS).

Sleep disorders are a widespread problem that affects around 80 percent of employees in Germany, according to a recent study by the DAK. The consequences of lack of sleep can be far-reaching. A connection with diabetes, heart attacks and strokes has been proven. However, sleep deprivation is, according to the research team from Jülich, "a quick, but only short-term remedy for depression." The effect here is probably due to the molecular changes in the brain. The scientists therefore examined these in detail in their current study.

Lack of sleep with different effects on performance
For the study, 15 healthy male subjects had to stay awake for 52 hours at a time and were then measured at the Jülich PET center. This was followed by a transfer to the DLR, where the participants could sleep under surveillance for 14 hours, according to the information from the Research Center Jülich. During the awakening period, the test subjects passed several performance tests, for example on reaction time and memory performance. Because lack of sleep can significantly impair performance. The tests showed that some participants had “extreme, sometimes seconds-long dropouts” due to lack of sleep, while others hardly noticed a drop in performance. Thanks to their disposition, the latter could have advantages in occupations in which people regularly have to deliver faultless services while lacking sleep, the researchers write.

Deprivation of sleep increases the number of available A1 adenosine receptors
The changes in the brain were measured using a so-called positron emission tomography (PET). It became clear "that sleep deprivation increases the number of available A1 adenosine receptors," reports study leader PD Dr. David Elmenhorst from the Jülich Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-2). Due to the subsequent recovery sleep, however, the number of available receptors has returned to normal. According to the researchers, the A1 adenosine receptors take on important functions in relation to the urge to sleep, which increases with increasing sleep deprivation.

Regulation of the urge to sleep
The receptors are built into the cell wall as a kind of receiver, so that the messenger adenosine can dock, whose signal the receptors transmit to the interior of the cell. This causes the cells to shut down in their activity. In the past, it was primarily the concentration of adenosine that was decisive for the onset of sleep urge during long waking phases. Today, researchers are more of the opinion that A1 receptors also play a role here. The adenosine concentration fluctuates practically every second, while the number of free receptors changes much more slowly and therefore seems more suitable for a kind of "sleep memory", the scientists report.

Strong increase in receptor availability in "resistant" subjects
In the subjects who were not very sensitive to the 52-hour sleep deprivation, there were significant deviations in the availability of A1 adenosine receptors compared to the study participants, who showed considerable weaknesses in the performance test. "Surprisingly, we could not find a constant value for this apparently resistant group of subjects, but rather a particularly strong increase in A1 receptor availability," emphasizes study author Dr. Elmenhorst. The subjects with a strong increase in receptor availability were more resistant to the loss of performance and more successful in the tests. However, this increased value cannot be equated with an exceptionally high concentration of receptor molecules, since the PET measurement only records the net value - i.e. the free receptor molecules - the researchers explain.

Low adenosine release Cause of high receptor availability?
Only the receptors that were not blocked and were available at the time of measurement could be detected using PET measurement. The concentration of the receptor molecules presumably plays a minor role here. "Our thesis is that the subjects, in whom we measured a particularly high A1 receptor availability, produce relatively little adenosine and thus less inhibit the activity of the cells," explains Dr. According to the researchers, the receptors are also associated with the effects of caffeine. The active ingredient attaches to complex protein molecules and blocks them. Therefore, the subjects in the test series had to do without coffee and other stimulants.

Therapeutic applications for depression
According to the researchers, the current study results are also important for clinical medicine. Because sleep deprivation is a fast, but only temporarily effective remedy for depression. There are "many efforts to extend the therapeutic effect of sleep deprivation in the treatment of depression." So far, however, there has been the problem that one-time sleep is often sufficient to fall back into the depressed state, Dr. Here, a "better understanding of the relationship between mood and adenosine regulation can help to optimize the design of guard therapies", the study director concluded. (fp)

Author and source information

Video: How Does Sleep Deprivation Affect Your Brain? with Dr. Shane Creado (May 2022).