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J Neurosci. 2013 Jun 26;33(26):10607-15. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5578-12.2013.

Tired and apprehensive: anxiety amplifies the impact of sleep loss on aversive brain anticipation.

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Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-1650, USA.


Anticipation is an adaptive process, aiding preparatory responses to potentially threatening events. However, excessive anticipatory responding and associated hyper-reactivity in the amygdala and insula are integral to anxiety disorders. Despite the co-occurrence of sleep disruption and anxiety disorders, the impact of sleep loss on affective anticipatory brain mechanisms, and the interaction with anxiety, remains unknown. Here, we demonstrate that sleep loss amplifies preemptive responding in the amygdala and anterior insula during affective anticipation in humans, especially for cues with high predictive certainty. Furthermore, trait anxiety significantly determined the degree of such neural vulnerability to sleep loss: individuals with highest trait anxiety showed the greatest increase in anticipatory insula activity when sleep deprived. Together, these data support a neuropathological model in which sleep disruption may contribute to the maintenance and/or exacerbation of anxiety through its impact on anticipatory brain function. They further raise the therapeutic possibility that targeted sleep restoration in anxiety may ameliorate excessive anticipatory responding and associated clinical symptomatology.

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