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Neuroscience. 2011 Sep 8;190:145-55. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.06.027. Epub 2011 Jun 17.

Chronic sleep restriction causes a decrease in hippocampal volume in adolescent rats, which is not explained by changes in glucocorticoid levels or neurogenesis.

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Department of Behavioral Physiology, Center for Behavior and Neurosciences, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.


Sleep loss strongly affects brain function and may even predispose susceptible individuals to psychiatric disorders. Since a recurrent lack of sleep frequently occurs during adolescence, it has been implicated in the rise in depression incidence during this particular period of life. One mechanism through which sleep loss may contribute to depressive symptomatology is by affecting hippocampal function. In this study, we examined the effects of sleep loss on hippocampal integrity at young age by subjecting adolescent male rats to chronic sleep restriction (SR) for 1 month from postnatal day 30 to 61. They were placed in slowly rotating drums for 20 h per day and were allowed 4 h of rest per day at the beginning of the light phase. Anxiety was measured using an open field and elevated plus maze test, while saccharine preference was used as an indication of anhedonia. All tests were performed after 1 and 4 weeks of SR. We further studied effects of SR on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity, and at the end of the experiment, brains were collected to measure hippocampal volume and neurogenesis. Behavior of the SR animals was not affected, except for a transient suppression of saccharine preference after 1 week of SR. Hippocampal volume was significantly reduced in SR rats compared to home cage and forced activity controls. This volume reduction was not paralleled by reduced levels of hippocampal neurogenesis and could neither be explained by elevated levels of glucocorticoids. Thus, our results indicate that insufficient sleep may be a causal factor in the reductions of hippocampal volume that have been reported in human sleep disorders and mood disorders. Since changes in HPA activity or neurogenesis are not causally implicated, sleep disturbance may affect hippocampal volume by other, possibly more direct mechanisms.

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