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Sleep May Boost Brain Repair

Update Date: Sep 03, 2013 06:06 PM EDT

Sleep boosts brain repair, according to a new study. New research reveals that getting your zzz's increases the reproduction of the cells that go on to form myelin, the insulating material on nerve cell projections in the brain and spinal cord.

It has long been known that many genes are turned on during on during sleep and off during periods of wakefulness. 

The latest study examines how sleep affects oligodendrocytes, which make myelin in the healthy brain and in response to injury. Researchers explain that myelin allows electrical impulses to move rapidly from one cell to the next.

Researchers measured gene activity in oligodendrocytes from mice that slept or were forced to stay awake.

The findings revealed that genes promoting myelin formation were turned on during sleep. In contrast, genes linked to cell death and cellular stress response turned on when the animals stayed awake.

"These findings hint at how sleep or lack of sleep might repair or damage the brain," Mehdi Tafti, PhD, of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and who was not involved with this study, said din a news release.

The study also found that the reproduction of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), or cells that become oligodendrocytes, doubles during sleep, especially during rapid eye movement (REM).

"For a long time, sleep researchers focused on how the activity of nerve cells differs when animals are awake versus when they are asleep," Cirelli said. "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."

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that extreme and/or chronic sleep loss could possibly aggravate some symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), a disease that damages myelin.

Researchers said the next step is to see whether or not there is a line between sleep patterns and severity of MS symptoms.

The findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience

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