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Immune response affects sleep and memory – new study

Immune response affects sleep and memory – new study - 13 June 2014. iStock
News from: University of Leicester

Fighting off illness – rather than the illness itself – causes sleep deprivation and affects memory, a new study has found.

University of Leicester biologist Dr Eamonn Mallon said a common perception is that if you are sick, you sleep more.

But the BBSRC-funded study, carried out in flies, found that sickness induced insomnia is quite common.

The research has been published in the journal PeerJ at:

Dr Mallon said: "Think about when you are sick. Your sleep is disturbed and you're generally not feeling at your sharpest. Previously work has been carried out showing that being infected leads to exactly these behaviours in fruit flies.

"In this paper we show that it can be the immune system itself that can cause these problems. By turning on the immune system in flies artificially (with no infection present) we reduced how long they slept and how well they performed in a memory test.

"This is an interesting result as these connections between the brain and the immune system have come to the fore recently in medicine. It seems to be because the two systems speak the same chemical language and often cross-talk. Having a model of this in the fly, one of the main systems used in genetic research will be a boost to the field.

"The key message of this study is that the immune response, sleep and memory seem to be intimately linked. Medicine is beginning to study these links between the brain and the immune system in humans. Having an easy to use insect model would be very helpful."

Dr Mallon carried out the study with Ezio Rosato (Genetics), Robert Holdbrook (Biology undergraduate) and Akram Alghamdi (Taif University, Saudi Arabia while a PhD student at Leicester).


Notes to editors

Images of flies:

You can contact Dr Mallon on +44 (0)116 252 3488 or via email:

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Tags: human health systems biology press release immunity