An Alzheimer Disease Challenge Model: 24-Hour Sleep Deprivation in Healthy Volunteers, Impact on Working Memory, and Reversal Effect of Pharmacological Intervention: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study

J Clin Psychopharmacol. May/Jun 2020;40(3):222-230. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000001199.


Purpose/background: Alzheimer disease (AD) is a public health issue because of the low number of symptomatic drugs and the difficulty to diagnose it at the prodromal stage. The need to develop new treatments and to validate sensitive tests for early diagnosis could be met by developing a challenge model reproducing cognitive impairments of AD. Therefore, we implemented a 24-hour sleep deprivation (SD) design on healthy volunteers in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study on 36 healthy volunteers.

Methods/procedure: To validate the SD model, cognitive tests were chosen to assess a transient worsening of cognitive functions after SD and a restoration under modafinil as positive control (one dose of 200 mg). Then, the same evaluations were replicated after 15 days of donepezil (5 mg/d) or memantine (10 mg/d). The working memory (WM) function was assessed by the N-back task and the rapid visual processing (RVP) task.

Findings/results: The accuracy of the N-back task and the reaction time of the RVP revealed the alteration of the WM with SD and its restoration with modafinil (changes in score after SD compared with baseline before SD), respectively, in the placebo group and in the modafinil group (-0.2% and +1.0% of satisfactory answers, P = 0.022; +21.3 and +1.9 milliseconds of reaction time, P = 0.025). Alzheimer disease drugs also tended to reverse this deterioration: the accuracy of the N-back task was more stable through SD (compared with -3.0% in the placebo group, respectively, in the memantine group and in the donepezil group: -1.4% and -1.6%, P = 0.027 and P = 0.092) and RVP reaction time was less impacted (compared with +41.3 milliseconds in the placebo group, respectively, in the memantine group and in the donepezil group: +16.1 and +29.3 milliseconds, P = 0.034 and P = 0.459).

Implications/conclusions: Our SD challenge model actually led to a worsening of WM that was moderated by both modafinil and AD drugs. To use this approach, the cognitive battery, the vulnerability of the subjects to SD, and the expected drug effect should be carefully considered.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alzheimer Disease / drug therapy*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / drug therapy*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Donepezil / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Healthy Volunteers / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memantine / therapeutic use*
  • Memory, Short-Term / drug effects*
  • Modafinil / therapeutic use
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nootropic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology*


  • Nootropic Agents
  • Donepezil
  • Modafinil
  • Memantine