Cycle 1 project 4

Adolescence: a sensitive period for cortical development

 

PhD student: Noemi Agneta Tesler, Romania
Home Institute: Neuroscience Center Zürich; Principle Investigator: Reto Huber
Host Institute: Amsterdam Neuroscience; Principle Investigator: Eus van Sommeren

Executive Summary
Recent studies indicate that people with sleep disturbances, like insomnia, may experience suboptimal cognitive and brain functioning. Insomnia has a prevalence of ~10% and a considerable heritability. Moreover, several studies suggest that insomnia increases the risk for depression disorders. Interestingly, the onset of insomnia is around adolescence, a time window in which brain circuits undergo extensive remodeling. Adolescence is an especially sensitive period for synaptic pruning in cortical circuits, a process leading to a significant reduction of synapses. The thalamocortical system is both essential for proper cognitive functioning and for the generation of the major electrophysiological features during sleep, spindles and slow oscillations. However, there is only very limited knowledge about the changes of the thalamocortical system during adolescence. A detailed description of those changes may contribute to the understanding of the pathophysiology of insomnia (and related disorders) and help to develop diagnostic tools applicable very early in the development of the disease. The proposed project aims to evaluate early signs of altered sleep and its consequences for cognitive functioning in adolescents of parents with a family history of insomnia versus those without. Data from the web-based studies will be complemented by sleep-EEG assessment.

In the project the two groups would join forces to carry out an ambitious experiment by taking advantage of the strength of each location: The experiment will take place in Amsterdam making use of their experience with insomnia patients and of a uniquerecruitment tool: The Netherlands Sleep Registry, a web-based survey-, task assessment, database and individual user-portal that allows for repeated assessments in large populations through internet. This will enable us to screen for adolescents of parents with a family history of insomnia. Our labs not only share a long-term common interest in the study of sleep and cognitive functioning in children and adolescents, but also are equipped with similar and complementary research techniques: high-density electroencephalography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation and computerized task assessment.

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