Sleep disturbances have been reliably reported in patients with schizophrenia, thus suggesting that abnormal sleep may represent a core feature of this disorder. Traditional electroencephalographic studies investigating sleep architecture have found reduced deep non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, or slow wave sleep (SWS), and increased REM density. However, these findings have been inconsistently observed, and have not survived meta-analysis. By contrast, several recent EEG studies exploring brain activity during sleep have established marked deficits in sleep spindles in schizophrenia, including first-episode and early-onset patients, compared to both healthy and psychiatric comparison subjects. Spindles are waxing and waning, 12-16Hz NREM sleep oscillations that are generated within the thalamus by the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), and are then synchronized and sustained in the cortex. While the functional role of sleep spindles still needs to be fully established, increasing evidence has shown that sleep spindles are implicated in learning and memory, including sleep dependent memory consolidation, and spindle parameters have been associated to general cognitive ability and IQ. In this article we will review the EEG studies demonstrating sleep spindle deficits in patients with schizophrenia, and show that spindle deficits can predict their reduced cognitive performance. We will then present data indicating that spindle impairments point to a TRN-MD thalamus-prefrontal cortex circuit deficit, and discuss about the possible molecular mechanisms underlying thalamo-cortical sleep spindle abnormalities in schizophrenia.
Keywords: EEG; MD thalamus; PFC; Schizophrenia; Sleep spindles; TRN.
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