Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Possible Link Between Sleep and Alzheimer’s Disease

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Genetic variations in a protein that removes toxins from the brain while we sleep not only reduce sleep quality but has been associated with a build-up of beta-amyloid — the main component of amyloid plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in Translational Psychiatry ( and led by A/Prof Simon Laws and Dr Stephanie Rainey-Smith of Edith Cowan University, focused on Aquaporin-4 (AQP4) due to its role in our brain’s night-time “housekeeping” system.

“Previously, it was thought that sleep problems were simply a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, but more recent studies have shown that a bidirectional relationship exists, with poor sleep also contributing to higher amyloid levels,” Laws said.

One suggested mechanism the brain uses to remove beta-amyloid is the glymphatic system, which flushes out toxins during sleep. Laws said a key component of this system is AQP4, which is a water-channel protein that acts like tiny drains through which toxins are flushed.

“For the first time, we’ve found that people with genetic variants in AQP4 who also have problems getting to sleep and sleep for shorter periods have high levels of beta-amyloid in the brain,” Laws said. “This adds strong evidence to the idea that the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.