WSU sleep scientist Jonathan Wisor has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the effects of chronic methamphetamine use on brain metabolism and sleep. The two-year, $395,577 grant comes from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is part of the NIH.
He will explore a seemingly contradictory pairing of symptoms in chronic methamphetamine users who are trying to kick the habit: excessive daytime sleepiness and the excessive use of glucose by the brain.
Sleep typically causes the brain to use less glucose, which is its main source of fuel, he said. However, chronic methamphetamine users exhibit a high rate of glucose utilization in the brain paired with excessive sleepiness.
Wisor thinks the answer to this paradox can be found in a biochemical series of events triggered by sleep. This helps clean up the brain's synapses, maintaining those connections between brain cells that are truly necessary and getting rid of other, less useful, connections.
The process contributes to the efficiency of the brain's use of metabolic fuels and "is dependent on a good night's sleep," he said. "What I think we may be able to show with these studies is that methamphetamine disrupts the signals that promote these sleep-dependent changes of the synapses."
In other words, the problem might not be in the quantity but the quality of sleep.
If the study confirms his hypothesis, it would be a significant step in understanding the brain mechanisms that underlie sleep. It could pave the way for development of a pharmaceutical intervention to reverse the methamphetamine disruption.
"Such an intervention might help chronic meth users get more restorative sleep, so they would wake up in the morning feeling ready to face the day without having to take methamphetamine to do so," Wisor said. "That's the hope."
Wisor, associate professor of medical sciences who is associated with the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center and the College of Veterinary Medicine's Department of Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience, is working with several other researchers on this study. They include Ilia Karatsoreos, assistant professor in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and Michael Rempe, assistant professor of mathematics at Whitworth University. Researchers from the University of Arizona and NIDA serve as consultants.