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Cereb Cortex. 2011 Mar;21(3):607-15. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhq129. Epub 2010 Jul 12.

EEG sleep slow-wave activity as a mirror of cortical maturation.

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Children's Hospital, University of Zurich, CH-8032 Zurich, Switzerland.


Deep (slow wave) sleep shows extensive maturational changes from childhood through adolescence, which is reflected in a decrease of sleep depth measured as the activity of electroencephalographic (EEG) slow waves. This decrease in sleep depth is paralleled by massive synaptic remodeling during adolescence as observed in anatomical studies, which supports the notion that adolescence represents a sensitive period for cortical maturation. To assess the relationship between slow-wave activity (SWA) and cortical maturation, we acquired sleep EEG and magnetic resonance imaging data in children and adolescents between 8 and 19 years. We observed a tight relationship between sleep SWA and a variety of indexes of cortical maturation derived from magnetic resonance (MR) images. Specifically, gray matter volumes in regions correlating positively with the activity of slow waves largely overlapped with brain areas exhibiting an age-dependent decrease in gray matter. The positive relationship between SWA and cortical gray matter was present also for power in other frequency ranges (theta, alpha, sigma, and beta) and other vigilance states (theta during rapid eye movement sleep). Our findings indicate a strong relationship between sleep EEG activity and cortical maturation. We propose that in particular, sleep SWA represents a good marker for structural changes in neuronal networks reflecting cortical maturation during adolescence.

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