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Obstructive Sleep Apnea Contributing to Blood-Brain Barrier Breakdown

September 2, 2015

A condition called sleep apnea affects about 22 million adults in the US and it’s been found that obstructive sleep apnea contributes to a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier plays an important role in protecting brain tissue, which is a function associated with subsequent brain damage caused by multiple sclerosis. Therefore the discovery from this study reported by a team of researchers from UCLA is significant for a disease such as this one.

The new insights gained from this study have potential to contribute new strategies for the treatment of sleep apnea as well as open up new therapeutic strategies for protecting against the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier.  

With obstructive sleep apnea, it has been studied that subjects show significant brain damage, more specifically in regions that control autonomic, cognitive, emotional and breathing functions. Deficiencies in these areas are known to be in the condition, as well as symptoms associated with injury in these areas which are linked to higher mortality, morbidity and decreased quality of life in the syndrome. It is unclear why this occurs and what the underlying pathological process contributing to the damage is.

It was found that the blood-brain barrier could potentially enhance or accelerate damage to the brain as well as brain injury. It’s affect that is present in the sleep apnea has significant consequences to memory, mood and cardiovascular risk, but researchers have developed both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic strategies in order to repair the blood-brain barrier functions in various conditions. 

The study ultimately suggests that there is a need to repair blood-brain barrier function in obstructive sleep apnea. Strategies commonly used in other fields with acute onset, such as MS, as well as chronic onset, such as Alzheimer’s disease in order to protect the neural tissue in the syndrome would be used.