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2021 Alzheimer's Association Research Grant (AARG)

Race-Specific Regional Tau Deposition and the Role of Obstructive Sleep Apnea

How does sleep quality affect Alzheimer’s-related brain changes?

Omonigho Bubu, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.
New York University School of Medicine
New York, NY - United States


According to the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report, older Black/African American individuals are about twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s or other dementia as older white individuals. Recent studies suggest that Black/African-American individuals may have lower levels of tau in their cerebrospinal fluid (a biological fluid sample found in the brain and spinal cord) than white individuals; the tau protein accumulates to form tau tangles, one of the hallmark brain changes observed in Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Studies also show that Black/African American individuals may have higher rates of sleep apnea, a sleep disorder. Studies suggest that quality of sleep may affect an individual’s risk of developing dementia in later life. However, whether sleep quality may influence brain changes observed in Alzheimer’s.

Research Plan

Dr. Omonigho Bubu and colleagues will leverage several ongoing studies of sleep and aging as well as data and resources from the NYU Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.  The researchers will leverage brain scans that measure the levels of beta-amyloid (the beta-amyloid protein accumulates to form plaques, one of the other hallmark brain changes observed in Alzheimer’s) and electrical brain signal data recorded during nighttime sleep from 120 cognitively unimpaired (60 white individuals and 60 Black/African American individuals) participants with and without sleep apnea. In addition to these datasets, the researchers will administer another brain scan, the positron emission tomography (PET) to study the levels of tau in the brain. The researchers will then study the intersection of sleep apnea and the levels of tau accumulation in the brain in different populations.  

Finally, Dr. Bubu’s team will also study whether the presence of sleep apnea may impact tau and beta-amyloid accumulation in participants.


The study results could provide insights into the potential interplay between sleep quality and brain changes observed in Alzheimer’s.  If successful, the results may help create public health interventions to tackle Alzheimer’s and other dementia.

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