While researchers have been looking at the complex relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and sleep for years, there is still so much to learn and understand. A study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is shedding new light on the relationship between the two.
Learn more about how the study recently found that increased levels of the sleep protein that triggers wakefulness led to an increased build of beta-amyloid in the brain, the accumulation of which is a hallmark characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
The Relationship Between Alzheimer’s and Sleep
A study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis revealed that a protein in the brain called orexin may be a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s.
The study was published in a recent issue of The Journal of Experimental Medicine. While previous studies have linked the onset of Alzheimer’s to sleep disturbances, exactly how lack of sleep contributes to the disease is largely unknown.
To learn more about the relationship between the two, researchers bred mice that were genetically predisposed to develop beta amyloid proteins with mice that did not have the gene for orexin, a protein in the brain that lets the brain know it is time to wake up after being asleep.
The offspring of the mice that did not have the orexin protein had significantly less beta amyloid proteins, which would indicate a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. Then, they reversed the experiment and found that by increasing levels of orexin, the mice slept less and had significantly more beta amyloid plaques, suggesting an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
Ways the Sleep Protein Could Lower Risk for Alzheimer’s
David M. Holtzman, M.D., head of the Department of Neurology and lead author of the study, said:
“This indicates we should be looking hard at orexin as a potential target for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.”
He continues, “Blocking orexin to increase sleep in patients with sleep abnormalities, or perhaps even to improve sleep efficiency in healthy people, may be a way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. This is important to explore further.”
The research team is continuing to explore the relationship between Alzheimer’s and sleep by studying how sleep medication could affect the build up of beta amyloid plaque.
What do you think about the complex relationship between Alzheimer’s and this sleep protein? What more could the relationship between the two tell us? We’d love to hear your thoughts about the study in the comments below.