Teen Sleep Study Adds to Evidence of a 'Neural Fingerprint'

May 2, 2011

Science Daily/Brown University

New research finds that consistent, "signature" brainwave patterns first noticed in short-term studies of adults are so robust that they're also detectable over a matter of years in the notoriously turbulent brains of teens. From there, the question is what such a "neural fingerprint" might mean.


Teens are rarely described as stable, so when something about their rapidly changing brains remains placidly unaltered, neuroscientists take notice. Such is the case in a new study of electroencephalography (EEG) readings gathered from dozens of teens while they slept. Despite the major neural overhaul underway during adolescence, most individuals maintained a unique and consistent pattern of underlying brain oscillations. The work lends a new level of support to the idea, already observed in adults, that people produce a kind of brainwave "fingerprint."


"At the moment it's too soon to tell anything about individual sleep or behavior from this, but it could provide a tool to geneticists," she said. "It is a link between behavior and genes."

With further research, the functional or physiological significance of the patterns could become clearer, Carskadon said. One question would be whether particular influences such as sleep deprivation or alcohol use affect the pattern.


"Knowing this gives us another tool to examine brain function and stability," Carskadon said. "Showing that there are these fingerprints may open up future possibilities in using this kind of analysis in larger samples to look for endophenotypes that might be predictive of someone, say, who might go on to develop schizophrenia or depression."


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