Intermittent Hypoxia Disrupts Adult Neurogenesis and Synaptic Plasticity in the Dentate Gyrus

J Neurosci. 2019 Feb 13;39(7):1320-1331. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1359-18.2018. Epub 2018 Dec 26.


Individuals with sleep apnea often exhibit changes in cognitive behaviors consistent with alterations in the hippocampus. It is hypothesized that adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus is an ongoing process that maintains normal hippocampal function in many mammalian species, including humans. However, the impact of chronic intermittent hypoxia (IH), a principal consequence of sleep apnea, on hippocampal adult neurogenesis remains unclear. Using a murine model, we examined the impact of 30 d of IH (IH30) on adult neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity in the dentate gyrus. Although IH30 did not affect paired-pulse facilitation, IH30 suppressed long-term potentiation (LTP). Immunohistochemical experiments also indicate that IH perturbs multiple aspects of adult neurogenesis. IH30 increased the number of proliferating Sox2+ neural progenitor cells in the subgranular zone yet reduced the number of doublecortin-positive neurons. Consistent with these findings, cell lineage tracing revealed that IH30 increased the proportion of radial glial cells in the subgranular zone, yet decreased the proportion of adult-born neurons in the dentate gyrus. While administration of a superoxide anion scavenger during IH did not prevent neural progenitor cell proliferation, it mitigated the IH-dependent suppression of LTP and prevented adult-born neuron loss. These data demonstrate that IH causes both reactive oxygen species-dependent and reactive oxygen species-independent effects on adult neurogenesis and synaptic plasticity in the dentate gyrus. Our findings identify cellular and neurophysiological changes in the hippocampus that may contribute to cognitive and behavioral deficits occurring in sleep apnea.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Individuals with sleep apnea experience periods of intermittent hypoxia (IH) that can negatively impact many aspects of brain function. Neurons are continually generated throughout adulthood to support hippocampal physiology and behavior. This study demonstrates that IH exposure attenuates hippocampal long-term potentiation and reduces adult neurogenesis. Antioxidant treatment mitigates these effects indicating that oxidative signaling caused by IH is a significant factor that impairs synaptic plasticity and reduces adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

Keywords: adult neurogenesis; hypoxia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Lineage
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Dentate Gyrus / pathology*
  • Doublecortin Domain Proteins
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • Female
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • Hypoxia, Brain / etiology
  • Hypoxia, Brain / pathology*
  • Long-Term Potentiation
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins / metabolism
  • Neural Stem Cells / pathology
  • Neurogenesis*
  • Neuroglia / pathology
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species / metabolism
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors / biosynthesis
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / complications
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology


  • Doublecortin Domain Proteins
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Microtubule-Associated Proteins
  • Neuropeptides
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • SOXB1 Transcription Factors
  • Sox2 protein, mouse