To determine if 12-h sleep deprivation disrupts neural plasticity, we compared long-term potentiation (LTP) in five sleep-deprived and five control rats. Thirty minutes after tetanus population spike amplitude increased 101 +/- 15% in 16 slices from sleep deprived rats and 139 +/- 14% in 14 slices from control rats. This significant (P < 0.05) reduction of LTP, the first demonstration that the sleep deprivation protocol impairs plasticity in adult rats, may be due to several factors. Reduced LTP may indicate that sleep provides a period of recuperation for cellular processes underlying neural plasticity. Alternatively, the stress of sleep deprivation, as indicated by elevated blood corticosterone levels, or other non-sleep-specific factors of deprivation may contribute to the LTP reduction.