Research ArticleNeuroscience

Sleep deprivation impairs memory by attenuating mTORC1-dependent protein synthesis

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Science Signaling  26 Apr 2016:
Vol. 9, Issue 425, pp. ra41
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.aad4949

How sleep deprivation impairs memory

Sleep deprivation impairs learning and memory. Tudor et al. (see also the Focus by Sweatt and Hawkins) found that sleep deprivation in mice suppressed activation of the kinase complex mTORC1 and consequently protein synthesis in hippocampal neurons, which impaired their memory. Restoring protein synthesis by increasing the amount of phosphorylated 4EBP2 protein in the hippocampus—a function normally performed by mTORC1—protected mice from the memory impairment caused by sleep deprivation. The findings reveal a molecular mechanism by which sleep loss impairs memory.


Sleep deprivation is a public health epidemic that causes wide-ranging deleterious consequences, including impaired memory and cognition. Protein synthesis in hippocampal neurons promotes memory and cognition. The kinase complex mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) stimulates protein synthesis by phosphorylating and inhibiting the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4E–binding protein 2 (4EBP2). We investigated the involvement of the mTORC1-4EBP2 axis in the molecular mechanisms mediating the cognitive deficits caused by sleep deprivation in mice. Using an in vivo protein translation assay, we found that loss of sleep impaired protein synthesis in the hippocampus. Five hours of sleep loss attenuated both mTORC1-mediated phosphorylation of 4EBP2 and the interaction between eukaryotic initiation factor 4E (eIF4E) and eIF4G in the hippocampi of sleep-deprived mice. Increasing the abundance of 4EBP2 in hippocampal excitatory neurons before sleep deprivation increased the abundance of phosphorylated 4EBP2, restored the amount of eIF4E-eIF4G interaction and hippocampal protein synthesis to that seen in mice that were not sleep-deprived, and prevented the hippocampus-dependent memory deficits associated with sleep loss. These findings collectively demonstrate that 4EBP2-regulated protein synthesis is a critical mediator of the memory deficits caused by sleep deprivation.

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