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Office of Neuroscience Research > WUSTL Neuroscience News > Sleep, Alzheimer’s link explained: Poor sleep leads to increase in Alzheimer's proteins associated with cognitive decline

Sleep, Alzheimer’s link explained: Poor sleep leads to increase in Alzheimer's proteins associated with cognitive decline



From the WashU Newsroom...

A good night’s sleep refreshes body and mind, but a poor night’s sleep can do just the opposite. A study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, and Stanford University has shown that disrupting just one night of sleep in healthy, middle-aged adults causes an increase in amyloid beta, a brain protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. And a week of tossing and turning leads to an increase in another brain protein, tau, which has been linked to brain damage in Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases.

“We showed that poor sleep is associated with higher levels of two Alzheimer’s-associated proteins,” said David M. Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor, head of the Department of Neurology and the study’s senior author. “We think that perhaps chronic poor sleep during middle age may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.”

These findings, published July 10 in the journal Brain, may help explain why poor sleep has been associated with the development of dementias such as Alzheimer’s.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by gradual memory loss and cognitive decline. The brains of people with Alzheimer’s are dotted with plaques of amyloid beta protein and tangles of tau protein, which together cause brain tissue to atrophy and die. There are no therapies that have been proven to prevent, slow or reverse the course of the disease.

Previous studies by Holtzman, co-first author Yo-El Ju, MD, an assistant professor of neurology, and others have shown that poor sleep increases the risk of cognitive problems. People with sleep apnea, for example, a condition in which people repeatedly stop breathing at night, are at risk for developing mild cognitive impairment an average of 10 years earlier than people without the sleep disorder. Mild cognitive impairment is an early warning sign for Alzheimer’s disease.

But it wasn’t clear how poor sleep damages the brain. To find out, the researchers — Holtzman; Ju; co-first author and graduate student Sharon Ooms of Radboud; Jurgen Claassen, MD, PhD, of Radboud; Emmanuel Mignot, MD, PhD, of Stanford; and colleagues — studied 17 healthy adults ages 35 to 65 with no sleep problems or cognitive impairments. Each participant wore an activity monitor on the wrist for up to two weeks that measured how much time they spent sleeping each night.

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