Media Releases

Sleep behaviour disorder linked to brain disease

April 22, 2014

TORONTO, ON — Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to say a sleep dis­or­der that caus­es peo­ple to act out their dreams is the best cur­rent pre­dic­tor of brain dis­eases like Parkinson’s and many oth­er forms of demen­tia.

“Rapid-eye-move­ment sleep behav­iour dis­or­der (RBD) is not just a pre­cur­sor but also a crit­i­cal warn­ing sign of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion that can lead to brain dis­ease,” says asso­ciate pro­fes­sor and lead author Dr. John Peev­er. In fact, as many as 80 to 90 per cent of peo­ple with RBD will devel­op a brain dis­ease.”

As the name sug­gests, the dis­tur­bance occurs dur­ing the rapid-eye-move­ment (REM) stage of sleep and caus­es peo­ple to act out their dreams, often result­ing in injury to them­selves and/or bed part­ner. In healthy brains, mus­cles are tem­porar­i­ly par­a­lyzed dur­ing sleep to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing.

“It’s impor­tant for clin­i­cians to rec­og­nize RBD as a poten­tial indi­ca­tion of brain dis­ease in order to diag­nose patients at an ear­li­er stage,” says Peev­er. “This is impor­tant because drugs that reduce neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion could be used in RBD patients to pre­vent (or pro­tect) them from devel­op­ing more severe degen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders.”

His research exam­ines the idea that neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion might first affect areas of the brain that con­trol sleep before attack­ing brain areas that cause more com­mon brain dis­eases like Alzheimer’s.

Peev­er says he hopes the results of his study lead to ear­li­er and more effec­tive treat­ment of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

Pro­fes­sor John Peev­er is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor in U of T’s Depart­ment of Cell and Sys­tems Biol­o­gy. His research is avail­able in print and online in the lat­est issue of Trends in Neu­ro­sciences.



For infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

John Peev­er, Ph.D
Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Cell and Sys­tems Biol­o­gy, Neu­ro­science

Michael Kennedy
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer