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Monday, September 9, 2013
Researchers find possible link between sleep and multiple sclerosis: Discoveries
CLEVELAND, Ohio-- Sleep may play a key role in the production and repair of myelin, the protective covering of nerve cells that is attacked and damaged in people with multiple sclerosis, according to early research in mice carried out at the University of Wisconsin.
The research found that the rate of production of a type of brain cell called oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) doubled in sleep relative to waking. OPCs are a type of cell that give rise to myelin in both healthy and injured adult brains.
“OPCs are among the few brain cells that in an adult brain keep proliferating and dividing and producing more cells,” said Dr. Chiara Cirelli, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and senior author on the paper, which was published online Sept. 4 in The Journal of Neuroscience. “Most all neurons in the adult brain don’t do that—that’s why people are studying them now quite extensively.”
Cirelli began studying the functions of sleep about 15 years ago, by looking at all the genes that change in an animal’s brain during sleep versus waking. In a 2004 study in the journal Neuron, her research group found that up to five percent of genes expressed in the cortex or "gray matter" of the brain change solely due to whether an animal is asleep or awake.
In the current study, they looked specifically at OPCs, a type of glial cell. Glial cellsare all the brain cells that are not neurons, and used to be thought of as simply the "glue" of the brain, whose only function was to support the neurons. Now, the glia, which have been discovered to help maintain the brain’s internal equilibrium and produce myelin (among other functions), are the subject of intense scientific focus.
In Cirelli’s current research, sleep-triggered genes produced OPCs, while sleep deprivation led to a suppression of these genes and more activity in genes that have been implicated in cell death and stress responses.
The findings suggest that chronic sleep loss could aggravate symptoms of diseases like MS which involve damage to myelin, Cirelli said, but there is a lot more work to be done before any firm conclusions can be drawn in people.
“Disturbed sleep may aggravate perhaps the symptoms of the disease, in a vicious cycle,” she said. “It would be nice to try to block the vicious cycle and improve the quality of sleep in these patients.”