Predicting Risk in Space: Genetic Markers for Differential Vulnerability to Sleep Restriction
Several laboratories have found large, highly reliable individual differences in the magnitude of cognitive performance, fatigue and sleepiness, and sleep homeostatic vulnerability to acute total sleep deprivation and to chronic sleep restriction in healthy adults. Such individual differences in neurobehavioral performance are also observed in space flight as a result of sleep loss. The reasons for these stable phenotypic differential vulnerabilities are unknown: such differences are not yet accounted for by demographic factors, IQ or sleep need, and moreover, psychometric scales do not predict those individuals cognitively vulnerable to sleep loss. The stable, trait-like (phenotypic) inter-individual differences observed in response to sleep loss-with intraclass correlation coefficients accounting for 58%-92% of the variance in neurobehavioral measures- point to an underlying genetic component. To this end, we utilized multi-day highly controlled laboratory studies to investigate the role of various common candidate gene variants-each independently-in relation to cumulative neurobehavioral and sleep homeostatic responses to sleep restriction. These data suggest that common genetic variations (polymorphisms) involved in sleep-wake, circadian, and cognitive regulation may serve as markers for prediction of inter-individual differences in sleep homeostatic and neurobehavioral vulnerability to sleep restriction in healthy adults. Identification of genetic predictors of differential vulnerability to sleep restriction-as determined from candidate gene studies-will help identify astronauts most in need of fatigue countermeasures in space flight and inform medical standards for obtaining adequate sleep in space. This review summarizes individual differences in neurobehavioral vulnerability to sleep deprivation and ongoing genetic efforts to identify markers of such differences.
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