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The brain may clean out Alzheimer’s plaques during sleep

If sleep deprivation puts garbage removal on the fritz, the memory-robbing disease may develop

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6:00am, July 15, 2018
brain cleaning illustration

THE CLEAN CYCLE  Lack of sleep may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease by robbing the brain of the time it needs to wash away sticky proteins.

Neuroscientist Barbara Bendlin studies the brain as Alzheimer’s disease develops. When she goes home, she tries to leave her work in the lab. But one recent research project has crossed into her personal life: She now takes sleep much more seriously.

Bendlin works at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, home to the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention, a study of more than 1,500 people who were ages 40 to 65 when they signed up. Members of the registry did not have symptoms of dementia when they volunteered, but more than 70 percent had a family history of Alzheimer’s disease.

Since 2001, participants have been tested regularly for memory loss and other signs of the disease, such as the presence of amyloid-beta, a protein fragment that can clump into sticky plaques in the brain. Those plaques are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

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