Who Needs Sleep? Drug Corrects Memory Problems in Sleep-Deprived Mice

By Eliza Strickland | October 22, 2009 11:01 am

sleep-mouseResearchers have found a pharmaceutical way to clear some of the cognitive fog that results from a sleepless night. In a new study using lab mice, researchers corrected the memory problems in sleep-deprived mice through a drug that suppressed levels of a certain enzyme in a brain region called the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory and learning.

The study, published in Nature, helps tease out the specific effects of sleep deprivation on the brain. Says lead researcher Christopher Vecsey: “One of the main problems is that sleep deprivation does a lot of things to the brain, and it’s easy to get caught in a mish-mash of different effects” [Nature News].

In the experiment, two groups of mice were either allowed to rest over a five-hour period or were constantly disturbed by handling. The sleep-deprived group demonstrated particular problems when it came to performing a basic retrieval test, which they had learned before [BBC News]. When the researchers examined the brains of the sleep-deprived mice, they found that these mice made more of an enzyme called phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4). In turn, the surplus of PDE4 caused a shortfall of a compound called cAMP, which is involved in forming new memories in a brain area called the hippocampus [WebMD]. When the researchers gave sleep-deprived mice a drug that stops PDE4 from working, the mice aced their memory tests.

While the study appears to point the way toward drugs that could help out sleep-deprived humans, overworked and overstressed people shouldn’t be clamoring for a prescription, says sleep specialist Neil Stanley, who wasn’t involved in the research. “We are always going to need drugs for people with serious disorders, but we don’t want to end up medicalising lifestyles. We need to go back to basics and think about the way we as a society lead our lives, and the impact this has on our sleep, rather than looking for a cure” [BBC News].

Related Content:
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80beats: Sleep Experiment Shows the “Graveyard” Shift Is Aptly Named
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Sleep

Image: C. Vecsey et al, Nature 2009

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • sofa king

    Medicalising lifestyles is already our way of life. Commute, work, stressed times- all cry out for a way to ease the tired mind. Coffee and cigs make mornings possible when we can’t get a rosy 9 hours sleep. I thought aderol was proof of a higher power, but this stuff looks to be even better.

  • sofa king

    Who’s gonna be the guinea pigs? Think anyone ever enlisted in the military just for the experimental drugs?

    Remember that wacky airforce flyover a coupla years ago? This kid was cranked on provigil, and dropped a bomb on some Canadian troops by mistake (oopsie). Pilots fly like 20 hours straight at times, wired.

  • http://www.caffeinewithdrawalsymptoms.org/ TJ @ Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

    So this could be a replacement for coffee to kick start your day? I for one welcome such a drug, if it has no side effects of course.

    @ Sofa king, there’s plenty of people willing to be guinea pigs for a bit of cash, they usually get a couple of grand, in my opinion, not worth the risk, but hey, some people just need the money.

  • https://www.pacificcoast.com/ Woody

    That’s all great but sleep does more than just help with your memory and cognitive abilities. A Sleep study I read this week found that teens who didn’t get enough sleep consumed more calories than their well-rested peers. The study of 240 adolescents, average age 18, revealed that teenagers who slept less than 8 hours a night on weeknights, ate 2% more calories from fat per day and 3% more calories from carbs than teens who slept longer. They also tended to get their calories from snacks instead of healthful meals. Cumulatively, this behavior increases the risk of obesity and, in turn, the chances of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

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