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Topography-specific spindle frequency changes in Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Suzana V Schönwald1, Diego Z Carvalho1, Emerson L de Santa-Helena2, Ney Lemke3* and Günther J L Gerhardt4

Author Affiliations

1 Sleep Laboratory, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre, Rua Ramiro Barcelos 2350/sala 2050, Porto Alegre, RS, 90035-003, Brazil

2 Department of Physics, Universidade Federal de Sergipe, Säo Cristóvao, Brazil

3 Department of Physics and Biophysics, Institute of Biosciences, Univ Estadual Paulista (UNESP), Botucatu, Brazil

4 Department of Physics and Chemistry, Universidade de Caxias do Sul, Caxias do Sul, 95001-970, Brazil

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BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:89  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-89

Published: 31 July 2012



Sleep spindles, as detected on scalp electroencephalography (EEG), are considered to be markers of thalamo-cortical network integrity. Since obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a known cause of brain dysfunction, the aim of this study was to investigate sleep spindle frequency distribution in OSA. Seven non-OSA subjects and 21 patients with OSA (11 mild and 10 moderate) were studied. A matching pursuit procedure was used for automatic detection of fast (≥13Hz) and slow (<13Hz) spindles obtained from 30min samples of NREM sleep stage 2 taken from initial, middle and final night thirds (sections I, II and III) of frontal, central and parietal scalp regions.


Compared to non-OSA subjects, Moderate OSA patients had higher central and parietal slow spindle percentage (SSP) in all night sections studied, and higher frontal SSP in sections II and III. As the night progressed, there was a reduction in central and parietal SSP, while frontal SSP remained high. Frontal slow spindle percentage in night section III predicted OSA with good accuracy, with OSA likelihood increased by 12.1%for every SSP unit increase (OR 1.121, 95% CI 1.013 - 1.239, p=0.027).


These results are consistent with diffuse, predominantly frontal thalamo-cortical dysfunction during sleep in OSA, as more posterior brain regions appear to maintain some physiological spindle frequency modulation across the night. Displaying changes in an opposite direction to what is expected from the aging process itself, spindle frequency appears to be informative in OSA even with small sample sizes, and to represent a sensitive electrophysiological marker of brain dysfunction in OSA.

Time series; Matching pursuit; EEG; Sleep spindles; OSA