Discovery of novel genes and brain areas associated with sleep deprivation may have implications for improved management of brain function.

Researchers at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and SRI International have published a study detailing the effects of sleep deprivation on gene expression in the brain. The findings have implications for improving the understanding and management of the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on brain function.

The study, available in Frontiers in Neuroscience, has created an extensive and detailed map of gene activity, known as gene expression, in the mouse brain across five behavioral conditions including sleeping, waking, and sleep deprivation. Activity of approximately 220 genes responding to these conditions was examined in detail, down to the cellular level, throughout the brain. Additionally, seven brain areas were examined by DNA microarray analysis, which reports the expression levels of tens of thousands of genes and allows a genome-wide analysis of the consequences of sleep deprivation.

“Although most people experience occasional sleep deprivation and recognize its impact on their mood and behavior, there is little scientific understanding of how sleep loss actually affects brain function,” said Thomas Kilduff, PhD, senior director of the Center for Neuroscience at SRI International. “This pioneering study documents how extending wakefulness affects gene expression in specific brain regions and describes a ‘molecular anatomical signature’ of sleep deprivation. Our findings may contribute to treatments that will help improve sleep quality and reduce problems arising from 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.

The data in this study are publicly available via the ALLEN Brain Atlas data portal as the “Sleep Study.” This online data set comprises a substantial collection of data detailing where specific genes are expressed, or “turned on,” throughout the mouse brain for five conditions of sleeping and waking. Specifically, it includes searchable image-based gene-expression data for approximately 220 sleep-related genes, genome-wide microarray data for seven sleep-associated brain areas, and a 3D viewing tool for visualizing changes in gene expression across different conditions.