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Using Fruit Flies to Understand Dementia

January 17, 2014

Novel research being conducted at Drexel University sheds a new light on the sleep disorders related to Alzheimer’s disease.   Researchers are using fruit flies to understand better the relationships between Alzheimer’s Disease and the sleep disorders in causes.

Fruit flies are a useful animal in the laboratory for such studies because their sleep patterns are similar to those of humans.  They are awake during the day and sleep at night.  By modifying the sleep patterns of the flies to resemble the sleep pattern of an Alzheimer’s sufferer, daytime sleep accompanied by nighttime wakefulness, the investigators spotlighted a protein related to the poor sleep pattern.

The study found that if you increase this key protein in the fruit fly, the sleep cycle often returns to normal.  This protein, known as Tip60, regulates how well the neurons associated with sleep function.  This finding opens the door for additional research to see if boosting this protein in humans will help improve their sleep function and lead to reduced Alzheimer’s Disease.

Other researchers have discovered that good sleep is essential for reducing your risk of dementia.  During sleep, the vascular areas in the brain expand, allowing waste products to be flushed away more readily.  With poor sleep, this cleansing function is inhibited.

The lead scientist, Felice Elefant, is focusing on how environmental stimuli affect the ability of the brain to make healthy connections between neurons, and thereby permitting good memory function.   Not yet concluded is if such sleep disorders are a cause or effect of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Based on her research so far, the researchers believe it is a causal relationship.  This would be consistent with other studies linking poor sleep with poor memory.



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