Impaired cognitive flexibility during sleep deprivation among carriers of the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) Val66Met allele

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Accumulating evidence points to a genetic contribution to explain inter-individual vulnerability to sleep deprivation. A functional polymorphism in the BDNF gene, which causes a valine (Val) to methionine (Met) amino acid substitution at Codon 66, has been associated with cognitive impairment, particularly in populations with impaired frontal functioning. We hypothesised that sleep deprivation, which affects frontal function, may lead to cognitive dysfunction in Met allele carriers. To examine this, we investigated, in different BDNF genotypes, the effects of sleep deprivation on cognitive flexibility, as measured by response inhibition using the Stroop Color Naming Task. Thirty healthy, adults of European ancestry, including 12 heterozygous Met allele carriers and 18 Val/Val homozygotes, underwent 30-h of extended wakefulness under constant routine conditions. A computerised Stroop task was administered every 2 h. Error rate and reaction times increased with time awake for all individuals. Participants with the Val/Met genotype made more errors on incongruent trials after 20 h awake. While Val/Met participants also took significantly longer to respond when inhibiting a prepotent response irrespective of time awake, this was particularly evident during the biological night. Our study shows that carriers of the BDNF Met allele are more vulnerable to the impact of prolonged wakefulness and the biological night on a critical component of executive function, as measured by response inhibition on the Stroop task.

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