New! Sign up for our free email newsletter.
Science News
from research organizations

Sleep Apnea Linked To Early Brain Damage

Date:
November 21, 2002
Source:
University Of California - Los Angeles
Summary:
UCLA scientists have discovered that patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea show gray matter loss in brain areas that regulate breathing and speech. Nearly 40 percent of these patients also stuttered as children, suggesting that the nighttime breathing disorder may arise from faulty brain wiring early in life. The study was published in the Nov. 15 edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Share:
FULL STORY

UCLA scientists have discovered that patients suffering from obstructive sleep apnea show gray matter loss in brain areas that regulate breathing and speech. Nearly 40 percent of these patients also stuttered as children, suggesting that the nighttime breathing disorder may arise from faulty brain wiring early in life. The study was published in the Nov. 15 edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

"For decades, we have blamed sleep apnea solely on a narrowed airway caused by enlarged tonsils, a small jaw or excess fat in the throat," said Dr. Ronald Harper, principal investigator and professor of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Our findings show, however, that sleep apnea patients also suffer disordered wiring in brain regions that control muscles of the airway. These glitches may lead to the syndrome, which is exacerbated by a small airway."

Harper's team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare brain structures of 21 men who had been diagnosed with sleep apnea to 21 men who did not suffer from the disorder. Then they weighed their findings against a template derived from 152 normal MRI scans obtained from the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Both sets of men were matched for age and weight. The researchers also considered the effects of disease severity, tobacco use, hypertension, cardiovascular health and whether the men were left- or right-handed in their comparison.

The MRIs revealed dramatic gray matter loss in the brains of the men with sleep apnea. Curiously, the tissue loss occurred primarily in regions of the brain that control speech production, movement and emotion. The amount of brain damage directly correlated to the severity of the patient's disorder. The healthy men's brains ranged from 2 percent to 18 percent larger in these areas than the men with sleep apnea.

"We propose that early damage to the brain's speech center triggers problems in the muscles that control the airway," said Dr. Paul Macey, first author and assistant researcher of neurobiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "This, in turn, eventually leads to sleep apnea."

"Our findings suggest this sleep apnea is a pre-existing condition -- that abnormal brain wiring from childhood contributes to the onset of the disorder in adulthood," Harper said. "The evidence in the brain is very specific."

Harper noted that obstructive sleep apnea patients often display other traits that suggest subtle brain damage, including problems with memory, thought and motor skills. "The repeated oxygen loss from sleep apnea may damage other brain structures that regulate memory and thinking," he said.


Story Source:

Materials provided by University Of California - Los Angeles. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of California - Los Angeles. "Sleep Apnea Linked To Early Brain Damage." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 November 2002. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/11/021121065148.htm>.
University Of California - Los Angeles. (2002, November 21). Sleep Apnea Linked To Early Brain Damage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 17, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/11/021121065148.htm
University Of California - Los Angeles. "Sleep Apnea Linked To Early Brain Damage." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/11/021121065148.htm (accessed July 17, 2024).

Explore More

from ScienceDaily

RELATED STORIES