Genes for shorter sleep linked with reduction of Alzheimer’s changes in mice brain

A scientist holding a plastic model of a molecule

By Quang Tran | Wednesday 16 March 2022

Researchers in the US have studied genes associated with a shorter sleep cycle and found they reduce Alzheimer’s-like brain changes in the mice bred to develop features of the disease. The journal iScience publish the findings today (Tuesday 15 March).

What did the researchers do?

The researchers generated mice with features of Alzheimer’s disease, either with or without two genes that encode for abnormal sleep patterns.

In people, these genes are linked to less time sleeping, but seemingly without any increased risk of memory and thinking problems in older age.

Over the course of six months, the researchers looked at changes in the brains of mice with and without these genes.

What did they find?

Both genes had slightly different effects on the disease processes in the brain of the mice. However, the team found that, tau, one of the hallmark proteins in Alzheimer’s disease was reduced by both genetic mutations.

What our expert said:

Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Alzheimer’s disease risk is a complex mix of age, lifestyle, and the environment we live in, as well as the genes we have. Growing evidence points to a link between poor quality of sleep and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, but it’s difficult for researchers to tease apart cause and effect.

“In this study, scientists used mice with features of Alzheimer’s to measure the impact genes associated with shorter sleep cycles have on brain changes associated with the disease. They looked at two genes and while both genes had slightly different effects, they were linked with a reduction in features of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This is interesting but early-stage research conducted in mice and we must be careful not to extrapolate these results to people. More evidence is needed to understand the biological mechanisms that regulate sleep and Alzheimer’s.

“The researchers suggest that identifying ways to improve sleep could hold potential for protecting against Alzheimer’s, and this is an important avenue for future studies. Most of us won’t have one of these efficient sleep genes and the majority of adults need between six and nine hours of sleep every night, according to the NHS.

“The link between sleep and dementia is an important and active area of research and scientists are making crucial progress unravelling what could be a key factor affecting our risk of dementia.”

Read the full paper ‘Familial natural short sleep mutations reduce alzheimer pathology in mice’ in iScience

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Quang Tran