A marker for Alzheimer’s disease rises and falls in the spinal fluid in a daily pattern that echoes the sleep cycle, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found.
The pattern is strongest in healthy young people and reinforces a link between increased Alzheimer’s risk and inadequate sleep that had been discovered in animal models. The brain’s relative inactivity during sleep may provide an opportunity to finish clearing away the Alzheimer’s marker, a byproduct of brain activity called amyloid beta. The body clears amyloid beta from the brain through the spinal fluid and other mechanisms.
In the new study, scientists report that the normal highs and lows of amyloid beta levels in the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord begin to flatten in older adults, whose sleep periods are often shorter and more prone to disruption. In older adults with brain plaques linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the ebb and flow is eradicated, and amyloid beta levels are close to constant.
The study is published online in Archives of Neurology.
“In healthy people, levels of amyloid beta drop to their lowest point about six hours after sleep, and return to their highest point six hours after maximum wakefulness,” says Randall Bateman, MD, associate professor of neurology. “We looked at many different behaviors, and the transitions between sleep and wakefulness were the only phenomena that strongly correlated with the rise and fall of amyloid beta in the spinal fluid.”
Bateman’s laboratory conducted the study in partnership with Washington University’s Sleep Medicine Center.
For more from Michael C Purdy of the WUSTL Newsroom, click here.