Brain cell changes may cause sleep troubles in aging

April 24, 2012, Society for Neuroscience

Older animals show cellular changes in the brain "clock" that sets sleep and wakeful periods, according to new research in the April 25 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The findings may help explain why elderly people often experience trouble sleeping at night and are drowsy during the day.

Like humans, mice experience shifts in daily activities and as they age. To find out why, researchers directed by Johanna Meijer, PhD, at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands studied the electrical activity of cells in the (SCN), an area of the brain responsible for setting sleep-wake cycles.

Consistent with previous studies, the researchers found aged mice showed disrupted sleep behavior and weakened brain network activity in the SCN. But Meijer and colleagues also found changes occurring in individual SCN cells, not just in their networks.

"In fact, the changes at the single-cell level were more severe than the changes at the network level," said Meijer. This represents a shift in understanding of aging's effects on the brain.

The researchers made electrophysiological recordings from isolated SCN neurons, a difficult experiment given the advanced age of the animals and the small size of this type of neuron. They found aged SCN neurons lack day-night rhythms in some membrane properties. In addition, the team identified age-related reductions of certain potassium currents that are important to the neurons' rhythmic firing.

Because potassium and other can be manipulated with drugs, "This work provides a new target for potential therapeutic interventions that can mitigate the age-related decline in the sleep-wake cycle," said Christopher Colwell, PhD, an expert in circadian clock function at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.

Explore further: Study shows new evidence of age-related decline in the brain's master circadian clock

Related Stories

Study shows new evidence of age-related decline in the brain's master circadian clock

July 19, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- A new study of the brain's master circadian clock — known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN — reveals that a key pattern of rhythmic neural activity begins to decline by middle age. The ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Neuroscientists suggest a model for how we gain volitional control of what we hold in our minds

January 16, 2018
Working memory is a sort of "mental sketchpad" that allows you to accomplish everyday tasks such as calling in your hungry family's takeout order and finding the bathroom you were just told "will be the third door on the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.