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Mouse Model Suggest Sleep Disorders May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s

Mouse Model Suggest Sleep Disorders May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s

Most Alzheimer’s patients suffer from sleep disorders before they become forgetful. New research suggests the sleep disorders impede memory formation and alter normal brain waves.

In the study, researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) determined, for the first time, how the pathological changes in the brain act on the information-storing processes during sleep.

Using animal models, they were able to decode the exact mechanism and alleviate the impairment with medicinal agents.

The sleep slow waves — also known as slow oscillations – are generated by our brain at night. The brain waves have a particular role in consolidating what we have learned and in shifting memories into long-term storage.

These waves are formed via a network of nerve cells in the brain’s cortex, and then spread out into other parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus.

“These waves are a kind of signal through which these areas of the brain send mutual confirmation to say ‘I am ready, the exchange of information can go ahead’. Therefore, there is a high degree of coherence between very distant nerve cell networks during sleep”, explains Dr. Marc Aurel Busche, Together with Prof. Dr. Arthur Konnerth from the Institute of Neuroscience, they lead the study.

The study appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

As the researchers discovered, this coherence process is disrupted in Alzheimer’s disease. In their study, they used mouse models with which the defects in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients can be simulated.

The animals form the same protein deposits, known as β-amyloid plaques, which are also visible in human patients. The scientists were now able to show that these plaques directly impair the slow wave activity.

“The slow oscillations do still occur, but they are no longer able to spread properly — as a result, the signal for the information cross-check is absent in the corresponding regions of the brain,” is how Marc Aurel Busche summarizes it.

The scientists also succeeded in decoding this defect at the molecular level: correct spread of the waves requires a precise balance to be maintained between the excitation and inhibition of nerve cells.

In the Alzheimer models, this balance was disturbed by the protein deposits, so that inhibition was reduced.

This knowledge allowed Busche and his team to treat the defect with medication.

One group of sleep-inducing drugs, the benzodiazepines, is known to boost inhibitory influences in the brain. If the scientists gave small amounts of this sleep medication to the mice (approximately one-tenth of the standard dose), the sleep slow waves were able to spread out correctly again.

In subsequent behavioral experiments, they were able to demonstrate that learning performance had now improved as well.

For the researchers, of course, these results are just a first step on the way to a suitable treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

“But, these findings are of great interest for two reasons: firstly, mice and humans have the same sleep oscillations in the brain — the results are thus transferrable. Secondly, these waves can be recorded with a standard EEG monitor, so that any impairment may also be diagnosed at an early stage,” concludes the scientist.

Source: Technical Institute of Munich/EurekAlert 
Elderly man in bed photo by shutterstock.

Mouse Model Suggest Sleep Disorders May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Mouse Model Suggest Sleep Disorders May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 23 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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