New research (#0329) indicates CPAP therapy can reverse the damage to adult brain tissue caused by obstructive sleep apnea. Grey matter volume in hippocampal and frontal structures significantly increased only three months after the start of CPAP.
With treatment, the cognitive impairment caused by obstructive sleep apnea is also reversible.
The authors noticed no further improvement in gray matter volume after one year of CPAP treatment.
17 patients with severe sleep apnea and a control group of 15 healthy subjects were given brain scans at the beginning of the study, and at the three month and one year following the onset of CPAP treatment. The brain scans were taken using 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a processing technique called “voxel-based morphometry” (VBM). VBM is often used to examine patterns of brain change in healthy aging or neurodegenerative disease and the related behavioral and cognitive effects.
The pauses in breathing caused by obstructive sleep apnea can produce abrupt reductions in blood oxygen saturation and reduce blood flow to the brain, damaging its gray matter. Gray matter refers to the color of the tissue on the cerebral cortex, where the brain does most of its information processing. Its appearance is due to a lack of myelin insulation.
The study was the subject of an oral presentation Monday afternoon at SLEEP 2010 in San Antonio.