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2014 Grants - Cunningham
Sleep Apnea, Oxidative Stress and Testosterone on Neuroinflammation
Rebecca L. Cunningham, Ph.D.
University of North Texas Health Science Center
Fort Worth, Texas
2014 New Investigator Research Grant
Current research suggests there may be an association between sleep-related disorders, such as sleep apnea, and the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep apnea may promote damage to brain cells due to the production of toxic oxygen molecules called free radicals. This process, known as oxidative stress (OS), can lead to brain inflammation which has been shown to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep apnea has also been linked to declines in memory and other cognitive functions.
In preliminary research, Rebecca L. Cunningham, Ph.D., and colleagues found that men with high levels of OS show more brain inflammation than do women with high OS. Moreover, in men with both Alzheimer’s disease and high OS, the hormone testosterone may be implicated in cognitive decline. The researchers also note that men are more than three times as likely as women to develop sleep apnea. Based on these findings, Dr. Cunningham’s team hypothesizes that testosterone may aggravate OS in men — and that this aggravation may promote brain inflammation and affect the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers will study male rats with and without testosterone replacement therapy and an induced a form of sleep apnea. They will assess the rats’ cognitive abilities, brain structure, and levels of OS. The team hopes to determine whether testosterone may intensify sleep apnea-related OS in the animals; and whether testosterone and OS may work together to promote brain inflammation and cognitive loss. The researchers will also assess whether a compound blocking testosterone can help prevent some of these brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Results of this work could reveal how testosterone levels — and the increasingly popular testosterone replacement treatments — may affect the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. They could also point to sleep therapies that may help prevent, halt, or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.