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Local modulation of human brain responses by circadian rhythmicity and sleep debt

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Science  12 Aug 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6300, pp. 687-690
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2993

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Circadian rhythms and sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation, such as that experienced because of shift work, jet lag, sleep disorders, and aging, leads to deterioration of many aspects of health. Cognition deteriorates rapidly and substantially when we stay awake through the night. To investigate the time course of brain responses during sleep loss, Muto et al. scanned volunteers repeatedly during an extended period of wakefulness (see the Perspective by Czeisler) in which circadian and homeostatic drives differentially affected local brain regions.

Science, this issue p. 687; see also p. 648

Abstract

Human performance is modulated by circadian rhythmicity and homeostatic sleep pressure. Whether and how this interaction is represented at the regional brain level has not been established. We quantified changes in brain responses to a sustained-attention task during 13 functional magnetic resonance imaging sessions scheduled across the circadian cycle, during 42 hours of wakefulness and after recovery sleep, in 33 healthy participants. Cortical responses showed significant circadian rhythmicity, the phase of which varied across brain regions. Cortical responses also significantly decreased with accrued sleep debt. Subcortical areas exhibited primarily a circadian modulation that closely followed the melatonin profile. These findings expand our understanding of the mechanisms involved in maintaining cognition during the day and its deterioration during sleep deprivation and circadian misalignment.

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