Brain morphology associated with obstructive sleep apnea

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002 Nov 15;166(10):1382-7. doi: 10.1164/rccm.200201-050OC.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by repeated occurrences of hypoxic, hypercapnic, and transient blood pressure elevation episodes that may damage or alter neural structures. Underdeveloped structures or pre-existing damage in brain areas may also contribute to the genesis of the syndrome. Brain morphology in 21 patients with OSA and in 21 control subjects was assessed using high-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging. Three-dimensional brain images were obtained with voxels of approximately 1 mm3. Images were spatially normalized and segmented into gray matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid. For each segment, regional volumetric differences were determined relative to age, handedness, and group (patients with OSA versus control subjects), using voxel-based morphometry, with OSA effects weighted by disease severity. A significant age effect on total gray matter was found in control subjects but not in patients with OSA. Diminished regional and often unilateral gray matter loss was apparent in multiple sites of the brain in patients with OSA, including the frontal and parietal cortex, temporal lobe, anterior cingulate, hippocampus, and cerebellum. Unilateral loss in well-perfused structures suggests onset of neural deficits early in the OSA syndrome. The gray matter loss occurs within sites involved in motor regulation of the upper airway as well as in areas contributing to cognitive function.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / chemistry
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / pathology*