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Scientists map effects of sleep deprivation on gene activity in the brain

Researchers working to better understand and treat sleep disorders can now access a detailed map of gene expression in the mouse brain across five behavioral conditions, including sleeping, wake and sleep deprivation.

The map was created by scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and SRI International to study the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation on brain function.

During the project, researchers analyzed approximately 220 genes responding to these conditions, down to the cellular level, throughout the brain. In addition, seven brain areas were examined by DNA microarray technology, which offered a genome-wide analysis of the consequences of sleep deprivation. According to the release (.pdf):

By comparing which genes were turned on and where in the brain across the different conditions, the researchers discovered that the majority of the neurons in the forebrain were affected in diverse ways by sleep deprivation, painting a dynamic picture of the molecular consequences of sleep deprivation on higher cognitive functions. Affected forebrain regions include the neocortex, amygdala and hippocampus, which mediate cognitive, emotional and memory functions that are impaired by sleep deprivation.

Detailed analysis of 209 brain areas revealed a novel set of genes not previously associated with sleep deprivation, including genes associated with the stress response, cell-cell signaling, and the regulation of other genes. One gene, neurotensin, has been implicated in schizophrenia and is similarly induced by antipsychotic drugs. These genes may provide potential targets for therapeutic intervention to alleviate the effects of sleep deprivation.

Data from the study are publicly available through the ALLEN Brain Atlas portal.

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