Myelin is a type of brain cell that insulates nerves in the brain and spinal cord. By doing so,myelin allows electric impulses to be fired in the brain, according to MedLinePlus. A new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience shows how the act of sleeping can activate a gene that leads to the regrowth of myelin. The study was performed on mice, but it can help scientists better understand the effects that sleeplessness has on humans.
In the study, the group of researchers “measured the activity of genes related to ‘oligodendrocytes,’ which make myelin both as part of healthy regeneration and in response to injuries,” according to The Independent. The researchers found that these genes were activated during sleep. On the other hand, genes responsible for cell death and stress were discovered in mice that the researchers kept awake. The researchers also noted that reproduction of oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs), which became oligodendrocytes, increases during sleep, especially when rapid eye movement (REM) occurs.
“For a long time, sleep researchers focused on how the activity of nerve cells differs when animals are awake versus when they are asleep,” a study researcher said in a statement reported by The Huffington Post. “Now it is clear that the way other supporting cells in the nervous system operate also changes significantly depending on whether the animal is asleep or awake.”
For years, researchers have tried to determine which biological processes occur during sleep, and exactly how the body is benefitted while a human is sleeping. Prior to the study, research has suggested that sleep helps relieve stress and undo harm caused by ultraviolet rays. Now, researchers can further explore how sleep helps the brain. One speculation derived from the experiment is that sleep loss might have an effect on certain symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition that damages myelin.