Magazine article USA TODAY

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Damages Brain

Magazine article USA TODAY

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Damages Brain

Article excerpt

The first evidence that obstructive sleep apnea contributes to a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, which plays an important role in protecting neurologic tissue, has been reported by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles. The discovery could lead to new approaches for treating the disorder, which affects an estimated 22,000,000 U.S. adults--causing frequent interruptions in breathing during sleep because the airways narrow or become blocked.

The blood-brain barrier limits harmful bacteria, infections, and chemicals from reaching the brain; studies have found that compromised blood-brain barrier function is associated with significant brain damage in stroke, epilepsy, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and other conditions.

"We found that the blood-brain barrier becomes more permeable in obstructive sleep apnea, a breakdown that could contribute to brain injury, as well as potentially enhancing or accelerating the damage," says Rajesh Kumar, the study's principal investigator and an associate professor in UCLA's departments of Anesthesiology and Radiological Sciences.

"This type of brain injury in obstructive sleep apnea has significant consequences to memory, mood, and cardiovascular risk, but physicians and researchers have developed pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapeutic strategies to repair blood-brain barrier function in other conditions. …

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