Sleep deprivation link to Alzheimer’s protein

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By Alice Tuohy | Tuesday 10 April 2018

PNAS: β-Amyloid accumulation in the human brain after one night of sleep deprivation

Researchers in the US have found a link between a single night of sleep deprivation and increased levels of amyloid protein in brain regions implicated in Alzheimer’s disease. The study, published today in the journal PNAS, adds to existing evidence pointing to a link between poor quality sleep and Alzheimer’s brain changes.

The study involved 20 volunteers between 22 and 72 years old, who received PET brain scans that measure amyloid build-up in the brain. Researchers compared levels of brain amyloid after a night of restful sleep and after a night of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation was associated with increased amyloid accumulation in areas of the brain associated with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“There is growing evidence of a link between disrupted sleep and Alzheimer’s disease, but it is difficult to tease apart cause and effect to determine whether sleep problems might cause Alzheimer’s brain changes or vice-versa. This very small study suggests that one night of sleep deprivation can raise levels of the hallmark Alzheimer’s protein amyloid, strengthening suggestions that sleep is important for limiting the build-up of this protein in the brain.

“The study doesn’t tell us how a good night’s sleep might keep amyloid levels at bay, while the researchers suggest that sleep helps clear the protein from the brain, other potential explanations also need to be explored. Finding out more about how the brain processes this protein will give researchers vital insights as they work towards ways limit the harmful amyloid build-up that we see in Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Research UK is funding pioneering research to unravel the link between sleep and the amyloid protein, and it is an important area of research for scientists working at the UK Dementia Research Institute, the country’s largest ever initiative aimed at understanding the causes of dementia.

“While this study sheds more light on the link between sleep and amyloid, it only provides a snap-shot of brain changes after a single night of disturbed sleep and doesn’t tell us whether this short-term association is relevant for the development of Alzheimer’s long-term. The development of Alzheimer’s is a process that takes many years and is likely to depend on multiple genetic, health and lifestyle factors. There are a number of important health benefits linked to a good night’s sleep, but we need to do more to unpick the potential long-term benefits of sleep on Alzheimer’s risk.”


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Alice Tuohy