The Brain Starts to Eat Itself After Chronic Sleep Deprivation

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andy Coghlan in the News & Technology section of the May 27, 2017 issue of the New Scientist. Michele Belles of the Marche Polytechnic University in Italy says the chronic sleep deprivation could explain why a chronic lack of sleep puts people at his age of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.

The brain cells that destroy and digest worn-out cells and debris go into overdrive in mice that are chronically sleep deprived. Although this might b beneficial in the short term, clearing potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect health connections. But when this continues in the long term it destroys healthy brain material.

The researchers specifically looked at glial cells, which serve as the brain’s housekeeping system. Previous research had found that a gene that regulates the activity of these cells is more active after a period of sleep deprivation. One type pf glial cell called an astrocyte, removes unnecessary synapses in the brain to remodel its wiring. Another type of cell, called a microglial cell, prowls the brain for damaged cells and debris.

The research suggest that sleep loss can trigger astrocytes to start breaking down more of the brain’s connections and their debris. Bells says, “We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss.

The researcher found that microglial cells were more active after chronic sleep deprivation (Journal of Neuroscience, 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3981-16.2017). Excessive microglial activity has been linked to a range of brain disorders. Bells says, “We already know that sustained microglial activation has been observed in Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration.

This research could explain why a lack of sleep seems to make people more vulnerable to developing such dementias.

It is still not clear whether getting more sleep could protect the brain or rescue if from the effects of a few sleepless nights. The researchers plan to investigate how long the effects of sleep deprivation last.

To learn more about the effects of sleep deprivation, enter “sleep deprivation” into the search block of the healthymemory blog.dem

 

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