Sleep: how can the way we sleep cause the appearance of Charcot's disease?

Sleep: how can the way we sleep cause the appearance of Charcot’s disease?


  • Playing sports would reduce the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease such as Charcot’s.
  • In France, there are 1,000 new cases of Charcot disease per year.

About 7,000 people have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Charcot’s disease, according to the Brain Institute. It is a serious degenerative pathology. “In about 30% of cases, it starts in the brainstem. (…) The first manifestations are difficulties in articulating or swallowing. In the other cases, ALS first alters the peripheral motor neurons: (…) it is due to weakness and discomfort in an arm, a leg or a hand that the onset of the disease manifests itself”Inserm explains.

As there is currently no treatment for this disease, the symptoms gradually increase with contractures, muscle and joint stiffness, muscle atrophy or even coordination disorders. When the respiratory muscles are affected, the risk of death is very high.

The protein wastage involved

Researchers may have just discovered a future therapeutic target for this disease: the glymphatic system, which removes waste from the brain. Their results were published in the journal translational neurodegeneration.

To understand this discovery, we must first look at how our brain gets rid of waste. In our body there are protein chains that fold to activate certain functions such as the creation of antibodies or the transport of molecules. But sometimes, some fold poorly, do not fulfill their function and, above all, create a cluster of proteins. “badly folded”. This last fragment becomes smaller and creates other clusters in the brain. These protein wastes are one of the causes of the development of many neurodegenerative pathologies, such as Charcot’s disease.

Sleep activates the glymphatic system

Therefore, the researchers wanted to understand whether removing or slowing the spread of these protein waste products could stop or slow the progression of Charcot disease. To do this, they were interested in the glymphatic system that removes waste, including proteins.

The glymphatic system is activated during sleep. Thus, with age, the quality of the nights decreases and the risk of suffering from a neurodegenerative pathology increases. In addition, sleep disorders would also be a risk factor.

To understand the impact of sleep, the researchers conducted experiments in mice that they genetically engineered to carry the protein implicated in ALS. They thus saw that the glymphatic system of rodents was affected very early in the context of the disease, before the onset of symptoms. Therefore, they believe that the glymphatic system could be a therapeutic target to prevent the onset of the disease.

Avoid sleeping on your back or stomach to prevent the onset of Charcot disease

According to the authors, it is necessary to get enough sleep, but also to lie on your side to reduce the risks of suffering from Charcot disease. This position would allow the brain to eliminate waste better compared to lying on your back or face down. Finally, the researchers also point out that limiting alcohol consumption and eating certain foods, such as those rich in omega-3, could reduce the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease.

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