Biomarker of cognitive susceptibility to sleep deprivation

Human Hippocampal Structure: A Novel Biomarker Predicting Mnemonic Vulnerability to, and Recovery from, Sleep Deprivation
Saletin JM, Goldstein-Piekarski AN, Greer SM, Stark S, Stark CE, Walker MP.
The Journal of Neuroscience, 24 February 2016, 36(8):2355-2363

Sleep deprivation impairs the formation of new memories. However, marked interindividual variability exists in the degree to which sleep loss compromises learning, the mechanistic reasons for which are unclear. Furthermore, which physiological sleep processes restore learning ability following sleep deprivation are similarly unknown. Here, we demonstrate that the structural morphology of human hippocampal subfields represents one factor determining vulnerability (and conversely, resilience) to the impact of sleep deprivation on memory formation. Moreover, this same measure of brain morphology was further associated with the quality of nonrapid eye movement slow wave oscillations during recovery sleep, and by way of such activity, determined the success of memory restoration. Such findings provide a novel human biomarker of cognitive susceptibility to, and recovery from, sleep deprivation. Moreover, this metric may be of special predictive utility for professions in which memory function is paramount yet insufficient sleep is pervasive (e.g., aviation, military, and medicine). 

Sleep deprivation does not impact all people equally. Some individuals show cognitive resilience to the effects of sleep loss, whereas others express striking vulnerability, the reasons for which remain largely unknown. Here, we demonstrate that structural features of the human brain, specifically those within the hippocampus, accurately predict which individuals are susceptible (or conversely, resilient) to memory impairments caused by sleep deprivation. Moreover, this same structural feature determines the success of memory restoration following subsequent recovery sleep. Therefore, structural properties of the human brain represent a novel biomarker predicting individual vulnerability to (and recovery from) the effects of sleep loss, one with occupational relevance in professions where insufficient sleep is pervasive yet memory function is paramount.

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