A New Study Shows How Sleep Can Affect Specific Brain Cells


To sleep, perchance to dream. Also to sleep, perchance to increase the cells needed for repairing the brain, according to new research.

According to researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, sleep boosts the reproduction of cells that form myelin—an insulating material found on nerve cell projections in the brain and spinal cord.

Oligodendrocyte cells are responsible for making myelin in the brain, and myelin itself helps
electrical impulses move from cell to cell.

Investigators carried out a mouse study in which they looked at the gene activity of oligodendrocytes in the cerebral cortex of mice that slept, and compared this same activity in mice that were kept awake.

Their findings indicate that in the mice that got some shut-eye, the sleep seemed to trigger the genetic cascade that allowed cells to form myelin. In the mice that were pulling all-nighters, the absence of sleep triggered cellular stress response and in some cases, programmed cell death.

They also found that oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCS), or cells destined to become oligodendrocytes, double in creation during sleepy time, and reproduce even faster during REM sleep.

Said Chiara Cirelli, of the Center for Sleep and Consciousness at the University of Wisconsin:

For a long time, sleep researchers focused on how the activity of nerve cells differs when animals are awake versus when they are asleep. Now it is clear that the way other supporting cells in the nervous system operate also changes significantly depending on whether the animal is asleep or awake.

While previous studies have shown how sleep helps the brain, this appears to be one of the first known studies to look at how sleep—or the lack thereof—can affect certain types of brain cells.

Source: UW

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