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2024 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship to Promote Diversity (AARF-D)

Relationship Between Sleep, Tau, and Race in Preclinical Alzheimer disease

How might the time that someone sleeps contribute to changes in the brain in early Alzheimer’s?

Anthony Briggs, Ph.D.
New York University Grossman School of Medicine
New York, NY - United States


A major goal in Alzheimer’s research is to identify individuals at the earliest time point in their disease progression to help with treatment discussions and planning for the future. A part of this discussion is a condition that has been described as subjective cognitive decline (SCD) which is where the individual notices changes in themselves before formal assessment is able to detect this change. This can precede further cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s. 

Dr. Anthony Briggs is studying several factors that may contribute to an increased risk in cognitive decline among Black adults, who are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s or another dementia. This includes the importance of tau protein, which is a hallmark protein of Alzheimer’s that can form tangles in the brain and damage brain cells. Current understanding of the relationship between tau and SCD among Black individuals is limited. It is also unclear how other factors, such low sleep duration and/or socioeconomic factors among Black adults, might impact SCD or the progression of cognitive decline and dementia within this population.

Research Plan

In the current study, Dr. Briggs will test whether Black Americans are more vulnerable to the effects of shorter sleep times, and whether this is associated with higher levels of tau in the brain and/or an increased reporting of SCD.

Participants in this study will include cognitively unimpaired individuals, including 100 Black or African American
individuals and 200 non-Hispanic White individuals. As a part of this study, these volunteers have already received specialty brain scans that measure the levels of tau in the brain. The participants will complete a series of validated surveys and tests assessing their cognition, which will allow Dr. Briggs’ team to rate their severity of SCD on a scale of 1-3. All participants will also wear wristwatch devices that measure their sleep habits and duration.

Taken together, the researchers will analyze the data collected in several ways. First, they will determine the relationship between the time slept and the levels of tau and presence of SCD (as well as its severity) in the study participants. Dr. Briggs will also use a measure of neighborhood characteristics (based on a person’s zip code) along with additional survey data from study participants to determine the impact of  measures such as perceived stresses, discrimination challenges and access to health services, have on the participants. 


This study will provide a deeper understanding of factors that might contribute to SCD among Black Americans. It is one of the first to incorporate precise sleep measurements, tau brain scans, and comprehensive socioeconomic measures to understand SCD within this population. The study may also uncover risk factors that might be modified to prevent SCD. This study could lead to new ways to identify individuals at highest risk of developing SCD, which can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.

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