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Insomnia: abnormalities in white matter in the brain

Severely decreased integrity in various right brain areas
Guangzhou Department of Medical Imaging Researcher, Guangdong No. 2 Provincial People's Hospital http://bit.ly/1MPrvbc have detected abnormalities in the white matter of the brain using MRI scans in patients with insomnia. With primary insomnia, people either have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for more than a month. Daytime sleepiness, mood swings and cognitive limitations are the consequences. But depression is also possible.

Connections damaged

According to study author Shumei Li, this disease is common. However, the causes and the consequences are difficult to pin down. Under the direction of Guihua Jiang, the researchers examined the relationship between abnormalities in white matter integrity and the duration and types of insomnia in sufferers. The team focused on bundles of axons, long fibers of nerve cells that connect one area of ​​the brain to the other. If these connections are damaged, communication between the brain regions is impaired.

The study included 23 patients with primary insomnia and a healthy control group of 30 people. To determine their mental state and sleep patterns, all participants completed a series of standardized questionnaires such as the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, in which, among other things, questions were asked about the occurrence of depression. All of them also had an MRI of the brain using diffusion tensor imaging. This procedure makes it possible to visualize the pattern of water movement along the connections of the white matter.

Further studies needed

Using a new method, the Tract-Based Spatial Statistics, it was possible to prove that the patients had a significantly reduced integrity in various right brain areas and the thalamus. The thalamus regulates awareness, sleep, and wakefulness. According to Li, the impaired areas of white matter are primarily related to the regulation of sleep and wakefulness, cognitive function and sensorimotor function. Anomalies in the thalamus and corpus callosum, the largest white matter structure in the brain, have been related to duration of insomnia and results of own assessment of depression.

According to the researcher, the involvement of the thalamus is crucial, as important areas of the human biological clock are to be found there. The cause of the abnormalities in white matter integrity in those affected could be the loss of myelin, the protective layer that surrounds nerve fibers. However, the researchers emphasize that more studies need to be conducted with more participants to better understand the link between white matter changes and insomnia. The research results were published in the journal "Radiology".