The effects of CPAP treatment on task positive and default mode networks in obstructive sleep apnea patients: an fMRI study

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e47433. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047433. Epub 2012 Dec 5.


Introduction: Functional magnetic resonance imaging studies enable the investigation of neural correlates underlying behavioral performance. We investigate the effect of active and sham Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) treatment on working memory function of patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) considering Task Positive and Default Mode networks (TPN and DMN).

Methods: An experiment with 4 levels of visuospatial n-back task was used to investigate the pattern of cortical activation in 17 men with moderate or severe OSAS before and after 2 months of therapeutic (active) or sub-therapeutic (sham) CPAP treatment.

Results: Patients with untreated OSAS had significantly less deactivation in the temporal regions of the DMN as compared to healthy controls, but activation within TPN regions was comparatively relatively preserved. After 2 months of treatment, active and sham CPAP groups exhibited opposite trends of cerebral activation and deactivation. After treatment, the active CPAP group demonstrated an increase of cerebral activation in the TPN at all task levels and of task-related cerebral deactivation in the anterior midline and medial temporal regions of the DMN at the 3-back level, associated with a significant improvement of behavioral performance, whereas the sham CPAP group exhibited less deactivation in the temporal regions of Default Mode Network and less Task Positive Network activation associated to longer response times at the 3-back.

Conclusion: OSAS has a significant negative impact primarily on task-related DMN deactivation, particularly in the medial temporal regions, possibly due to nocturnal hypoxemia, as well as TPN activation, particularly in the right ventral fronto-parietal network. After 2 months of active nasal CPAP treatment a positive response was noted in both TPN and DMN but without compete recovery of existing behavioral and neuronal deficits. Initiation of CPAP treatment early in the course of the disease may prevent or slow down the occurrence of irreversible impairment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Polysomnography
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology*

Grants and funding

This study was supported by research grants from Swiss National Foundation for Scientific Research and Swiss Foundation for Grants in Medicine and Biology (FSBMB), as well as Respironics, Resmed, and Covidien. The publication is supported by an unrestrictive educational grant from Kai sensor Inc. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.