Sleep to Clean: A Prevention of Plaques That Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease

我们通过发表论文来表彰学生 STEM 写作比赛的前 11 名获奖者。这是乔斯琳·谭(Jocelyn Tan)的作品。


本文由Jocelyn Tan撰写,15岁,来自新泽西州Bask Ridge的Ridge高中。,是学习网络第二届年度STEM写作比赛的前11名获奖者之一我们收到了3,741份参赛作品。

Sleep to Clean: A Prevention of Plaques That Lead to Alzheimer’s Disease

Our brain’s storage is like a teenager’s room — messy, cluttered and a fortress of personal memories. Scattered around are beloved belongings, such as your family heirloom or favorite cat, but imagine if suddenly these treasures disappeared, with only dust bunnies lying in their wake. Poof. Gone.

Despite seeming like deceptive magic, this is the blunt reality of an individual’s brain with Alzheimer’s, a daunting and currently incurable disease. With about 10 percent of people over the age of 65 diagnosed, it seems inevitable that it would affect individuals and families. But, what if this disease could be prevented through something simple — sufficient sleep?

Take a look inside the structure of a healthy brain. As they are created and destroyed, billions of neurons reside and correspond with each other through synapses. As new experiences feed into our brain every second, the synapses receive neurotransmitters that are responsible for the communication in our brain: seeing, thinking, remembering. However, in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient, harmful proteins called amyloid-beta 42 block these synapses. Naturally produced by neurons, amyloid-beta proteins accumulate and lead to Alzheimer’s if not cleaned out fast enough by microglia cells, the cleaners for the brain. Over time, the rapid rate of amyloid-beta production causes the proteins to clump up into plaque. This unsettling change results in brain dysfunction; proteins like tau create neurofibrillary tangles that choke off the insides of neurons. Now, the once messy room is structurally and functionally destroyed by a hurricane. Looking to rapidly fix the chaos, microglia cells secrete inflammatory factors, resulting in prolonged inflammation and even the destruction of neurons.

In the past years, scientists began noticing a relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and sleep. Dr. Yo-El Ju evaluated patients in sleep apnea treatment. Following their successful treatment, she found that both the production and number of beta-amyloids had decreased. Laura Lewis, an assistant professor from Boston University who conducted a study on brain waves and sleep, said that the patients seemed “to have a change in their ability to clear proteins or waste products from their brain.” Hence, sleep has a vital role in the reduction of beta-amyloid plaques — the emerging signs of oncoming Alzheimer’s.

But, how come? In a separate study done by Dr. Maiken Nedergaard, it was discovered that the brain cleans waste two times faster when asleep. “So things like amyloid-beta, which are implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, seem to actually be removed more rapidly from the brain,” Dr. Lewis pointed out. Allowing microglia cells and other proteins to actively sweep out waste at much faster rates, sleep reshapes the untidy room in the brain, solidifying memories. With a healthy sleep routine, the fate of our brains could be deterred from Alzheimer’s disease.

There is still much to discover. As Dr. Lewis said, “I don’t know whether it’s that sleep increases clearance or whether sleep decreases the production of waste products.” Every step in the understanding of neurology can help uncover new preventions for Alzheimer’s, improving brain health for generations to come.

Works Cited

Alzheimer’s Association. “Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures.” Alzheimer’s Association.” Alzheimer’s Association.

Cunningham, Aimee. “Lack of Sleep Is Tied to Increases in Two Alzheimer’s Proteins.” Science News, 24 Jan. 2019.

Hamilton, Jon. “Deep Sleep Protects against Alzheimer’s, Growing Evidence Shows.” NPR, 17 Nov. 2020.

Konnikova, Maria. “Goodnight. Sleep Clean.” The New York Times, 11 Jan. 2014.

“What Happens to the Brain in Alzheimer’s Disease?” National Institute on Aging, 16 May 2017.