[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 24-Dec-2008
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Contact: Isabelle Kling
McGill University Health Centre

Sleep disorders: A warning sign for neurodegenerative disease?

REM sleep behavior disorder appears to be a predictor of neurodegenerative disease in more than 50 percent of cases, according to a recent study

This release is available in French.

Montreal, December 16, 2008 – According to the latest study by Dr. Ronald Postuma from the Research Institute of the MUHC and Dr. Jacques Montplaisir from the Université de Montréal and the Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal, 52.4 per cent of patients with REM sleep behaviour disorder develop a neurodegenerative disease within 12 years following their initial diagnosis. These results will be published on December 24, 2008 in the journal Neurology, the official publication of the American Academy of Neurology.

High risk of neurodegenerative disease

The study showed that the chance a patient suffering from an REM sleep behaviour disorder will develop a neurodegenerative disease is 17.7 per cent within five years of diagnosis, 40.6 per cent within 10 years, and 52.4 per cent within 12 years. "These results establish a clear link and indicate that these sleep disorders could be a predictor of neurodegenerative disease," explained Dr. Postuma.

The 93 patients who participated in this study were recruited and assessed at the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal by Dr Jacques Montplaisir.

Impact on future research

"Doctors should pay close attention when following these patients, as their observations could help define the precursors of diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Lewy body dementia, or multiple system atrophy," stated Dr. Montplaisir, principal investigator of the study. Currently, it is difficult to diagnose these diseases with certainty before an advanced stage, as doctors lack data on warning signs. Understanding how to detect these diseases early would be of great value to clinical practice.

Although effective treatments against REM sleep behaviour disorder do exist, these medications do not postpone the onset of neurodegenerative disease. As research is very active in this field, these patients could represent a viable target population in the relatively near future to test the effectiveness of new innovative treatments to fight neuronal degeneration.

A rare pathology

REM sleep behaviour disorder affects a small percentage of the population. It is characterized by a loss of the normal muscle relaxation while dreaming and is seen most often in men fifty and older. This is a specific pathology that should not be confused with insomnia, night terrors, or confusional arousals.


This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ).

Dr. Ronald Postuma is a researcher in the Neuroscience Axis of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). He is also a neurologist at the MUHC and a Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University.

Dr. Jacques Montplaisir is the Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Sleep Medicine located at the Research Center of the Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal, a Medical Center affiliated with the Medical School of the Université de Montréal. He is also professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Université de Montréal and holds the Canadian Research Chair in Sleep Medicine

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, the university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University//. The institute supports over 600 researchers, nearly 1200 graduate and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge.

The Research Institute of the MUHC is supported in part by the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.

Hôpital du Sacré-Cœur de Montréal is a supra-regional health centre affiliated with the Université de Montréal. The Research Center of the Hôpital du Sacré Coeur de Montréal (HSCM) is a multidisciplinary research facility that hosts the Center for Advanced Studies in Sleep Medicine where the study was conducted and the CIHR Group on Sleep Disorders, that includes 10 researchers and 25 graduate and postdoctoral fellows working specifically on the physiopathology and the treatment of Sleep Disorders.

Once the embargo is lifted you will find this press release, with the original article and a short audio interview by following this link: http://www.muhc.ca/media/news/

For more information please contact:

Isabelle Kling
Communications Coordinator (research)
MUHC Public Relations and Communications
(514) 843 1560

Lyne Arcand,
HSCM Communications Coordinator
514 338-2222, ext 2048 or ext 3248

Ian Popple
Communications Coordinator
MUHC Public Relations and Communications
Phone: (514) 843 1560
Cell: (514) 463 1400

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