It has long been known that sleep deprivation affects your ability to remember things long term. Yet until now the exact mechanism causing these misplaced memories has been unclear.
The problem had been that the relationship between sleep deprivation and the brain is multi-faceted; it was hard to see the wood from the cerebral trees. But in a paper published in this week’s Nature, an international team of scientists report findings that suggest the culprit has been revealed.
In their study the researchers took mice that had been deprived of sleep for five hours and examined the hippocampus, the section of the brain known to play a fundamental role in long term memory.
They found that the sleep-deprived rodents had a higher level of an enzyme called PDE4 than those left to sleep normally. In order to make sure that these increased levels of PDE4 were indeed behind the long-term memory loss they tested whether the mice could recall a fear stimulus.
In mice that were treated with a drug that inhibits PDE4 production they found the effect was nullified and the sleepy mice could remember just as well as those rodents that had been well rested. Whereas the mice left with increased levels of PDE4 struggled when tested.
This research might have implications for those suffering with serious sleep deprivation such as new parents. However, further research is necessary to experiment with Rolipram, the drug used in the study, and its effectiveness combating memory problems in humans suffering with sleep deprivation.
Vecsey, C., Baillie, G., Jaganath, D., Havekes, R., Daniels, A., Wimmer, M., Huang, T., Brown, K., Li, X., Descalzi, G., Kim, S., Chen, T., Shang, Y., Zhuo, M., Houslay, M., & Abel, T. (2009). Sleep deprivation impairs cAMP signalling in the hippocampus Nature, 461 (7267), 1122-1125 DOI: 10.1038/nature08488