Poor sleep may put you at greater Alzheimer's risk

Ellen Mills
July 7, 2017

People who sleep poorly could be at a greater risk of Alzheimer's, new research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison found.

Screening middle-aged adults for levels of amyloid protein in the organ could halt the irreversible damage, a study suggests.

At the time of the study, all participants had normal memory and thinking skills, but they were all considered at risk of developing Alzheimer's either because they carried a gene called apolipoprotein E (APOE) or because they had a parent with the disease. "This new work will help to develop better compounds for diagnosing and treating Alzheimer's and other diseases which involve defective Tau".

Nearly thirty years ago, scientists at the LMB (including Michel Goedert, one of the senior authors on this paper) identified tau protein as an integral component of the lesions found in Alzheimer's and a range of other neurodegenerative diseases.

'For example, disrupted sleep or lack of sleep may lead to amyloid plaque buildup because the brain's clearance system kicks into action during sleep.

Hallmarks of the disease include the build-up of harmful proteins in the brain - amyloid plaques and tau tangles. Lead scientist Dr. Barbara Bendlin of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the U.S. said that previous studies had also shown the influence of sleep on the development progression of the disease in various ways.

'Our study looked not only for amyloid but for other biological markers in the spinal fluid as well.

We won't know the full ramifications of this discovery until scientists have a chance to follow up on the new findings presented here, but it's clear that this could be a major turning point in studying how to counter these harmful protein clumps, with Ghetti describing the result as one of the major discoveries of the last quarter century of Alzheimer's research.

"The ability to picture what the lock looks like could help scientists design more precise drugs that act on the tau protein and stop damage to the brain".

The solid evidence is still lacking to confirm whether sleep problems affect the development of the disease or Alzheimer itself is causing the sleep disorders.

But overall, the researchers say that poor sleep could be a potential contributor to Alzheimer's disease progression-and one that people may be able to do something about before it's too late.

Their sleep quality was rated on a standard scale that measured amount, quality and trouble sleeping, along with daytime drowsiness and naps. There are already many effective ways to improve sleep.

"We're looking at groups of people, and over the whole group we find the association of poor sleep with the markers of Alzheimer's", said Bendlin.

'It may be possible that early intervention for people at risk of Alzheimer's disease may prevent or delay the onset of the disease'.

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