Google Play icon

Mice sleeping fitfully provide clues to insomnia

Share
Posted January 8, 2019

Mice that sleep fitfully could help researchers unravel the mystery of insomnia.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied mice genetically modified to mimic the genetic disease neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), which is associated with sleep problems. They found that the animals, like some people with NF1, slept in short, irregular spurts. Studying these mice could help identify the molecular and cellular mechanisms that go awry and cause fragmented sleep patterns in people with and without the disease, the researchers said.

“The mice are a tool for us to understand how sleep disturbances arise and how sleep disruption contributes to problems with learning and attention,” said David H. Gutmann, MD, PhD, the Donald O. Schnuck Family Professor of Neurology and the study’s senior author. “This could apply both to people with NF1 and others without NF1 who also have sleep problems.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis – working with mice with sleep problems similar to those experienced by people with the genetic disease neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) – believe the animals will help shed light on insomnia linked to NF1 or other factors. Image credit: Pxhere, CC0 Public Domain

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis – working with mice with sleep problems similar to those experienced by people with the genetic disease neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) – believe the animals will help shed light on insomnia linked to NF1 or other factors. Image credit: Pxhere, CC0 Public Domain

As many as half of people with NF1 – a condition that causes benign tumors in the brain and on nerves throughout the body – have difficulty falling or staying asleep. Learning disabilities and attention problems also are common in children with NF1, and both may be exacerbated by poor sleep. But doctors don’t know why some children with NF1 develop sleep problems and others don’t, nor can they do much to help them sleep better.

“Right now we just treat children and adults with NF1 and sleep problems like we treat patients without NF1 because we don’t understand what causes them,” said Gutmann, who also directs the Neurofibromatosis Center at Washington University.

Co-first author Corina Anastasaki, instructor in neurology, bred mice with a mutation in their Nf1 gene similar to what is seen in people with NF1. Then, co-first author Nicholas Rensing and Michael J. Wong, MD, PhD, the Allen P. and Josephine B. Green Professor of Pediatric Neurology, fitted onto the mice miniature versions of the caps people wear for sleep studies, enabling them to measure brain waves and identify sleep patterns.

Mice normally sleep during the day and, like people, cycle several times from deep, dreamless sleep to REM sleep – or dreaming – and back again. Mice with an Nf1 mutation, however, tended to wake up soon after they entered deep sleep. The result was a fragmented, and probably not restful, day of sleep.

“Throughout the whole night and day, they fell asleep and woke up when they shouldn’t have,” Anastasaki said. “They fell into deep sleep, but they didn’t stay there.”

Although the mice were engineered to mimic human NF1 disease, they could yield insights about the biological underpinnings of sleep in general, which could help people with sleep problems unrelated to NF1. About a third of American adults report some degree of insomnia, and 15 percent have chronic insomnia that lasts three months or more.

“It is hard to study sleep problems in people because there are so many factors that influence how well you sleep – maybe you’re stressed out, maybe you’re sick, maybe you’re taking care of a new baby,” Gutmann said. “But now we have a controlled system that we can use to start looking at which cells and proteins are involved, and which biological factors influence sleep quality. Only when we understand the problem better will we be able to find better ways to treat it.”

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

Featured news from related categories:

Technology Org App
Google Play icon
84,767 science & technology articles

Most Popular Articles

  1. Real Artificial Gravity for SpaceX Starship (September 17, 2019)
  2. Top NASA Manager Says the 2024 Moon Landing by Astronauts might not Happen (September 19, 2019)
  3. How social media altered the good parenting ideal (September 4, 2019)
  4. What's the difference between offensive and defensive hand grenades? (September 26, 2019)
  5. Just How Feasible is a Warp Drive? (September 25, 2019)

Follow us

Facebook   Twitter   Pinterest   Tumblr   RSS   Newsletter via Email