From high-school students to surgeons, anyone who has pulled an all-nighter knows there is a price to be paid the next day: trouble focusing, a fuzzy memory and other cognitive impairments. Now, researchers at Penn have found the part of the brain and the neurochemical basis for sleep deprivation’s effects on memory.
Ted Abel, a professor of biology in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences and director of the University’s interdisciplinary Biological Basis of Behavior program, led the research team. His partners included Cédrick Florian, a postdoctoral fellow in biology, and Christopher Vecsey, a neuroscience graduate student, as well as researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University.
Their research was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Abel’s group aimed to better understand the role of the nucleoside adenosine in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory function.
“For a long time, researchers have known that sleep deprivation results in increased levels of adenosine in the brain, and has this effect from fruit flies to mice to humans.” Abel said. “There is accumulating evidence that this adenosine is really the source of a number of the deficits and impact of sleep deprivation, including memory loss and attention deficits. One thing that underscores that evidence is that caffeine is a drug that blocks the effects of adenosine, so we sometimes refer to this as ‘the Starbucks experiment.'”