The impact of sleep and hypoxia on the brain: potential mechanisms for the effects of obstructive sleep apnea

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PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a chronic, highly prevalent, multisystem disease, which is still largely underdiagnosed. Its most prominent risk factors, obesity and older age, are on the rise, and its prevalence is expected to grow further. The last few years have seen an exponential increase in studies to determine the impact of OSA on the central nervous system. OSA-induced brain injury is now a recognized clinical entity, although its possible dual relationship with several other neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders is debated. The putative neuromechanisms behind some of the effects of OSA on the central nervous system are discussed in this review, focusing on the nocturnal intermittent hypoxia and sleep fragmentation.

RECENT FINDINGS: Recent preclinical and clinical findings suggest that neurogenic ischemic preconditioning occurs in some OSA patients, and that it may partly explain variability in clinical findings to date. However, the distinct parameters of the interplay between ischemic preconditioning, neuroinflammation, sleep fragmentation and cerebrovascular changes in OSA-induced brain injury are still largely unclear, and more research is required.

SUMMARY: Early diagnosis and intervention in patients with OSA is of paramount importance. Future clinical studies should utilize multimodal investigative approaches to enable more reliable referencing for the acuity of the pathological process, as well as its reversibility following the treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-71
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014


  • Aging
  • Anoxia
  • Brain
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Preconditioning
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive
  • Sleep Deprivation


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