In a recent study, scientists examined the impact of sleep deprivation on the stem cells of the cornea. The researchers, Wei Li, Zugou Liu and colleagues from Xiamen University, China, and Harvard Medical School, USA, while conducting the study on mice found that short-term sleep deprivation increased the rate at which stem cells in the cornea multiplied. The findings of the study were published in Stem Cell Reports on Thursday.
According to doctors and health experts, sleep deprivation is a serious health problem and it can have negative impacts on mental and physical health. Issues related to eyes such as dryness and itching are commonly experienced after episodes of sleep deprivation, while long-term sleep deprivation comes with an increased risk for eye disease.
The transparent tissue layer covering the eye known as the cornea is crucial for the proper health and function of the sense organ. The cornea is maintained by stem cells which divide to replace dying cells and repair small injuries. The scientists maintain that the corneal stem cell activity needs to be precisely tuned to assure an adequate output of new corneal cells, and dysregulation of corneal stem cells can lead to eye disease and impaired vision.
During the study, the scientists also found that sleep deprivation also altered the composition of the protective tear film. Consequently, it reduced the tear film antioxidants in sleep-deprived mice. The researchers also found that the tear film composition had a direct impact on corneal stem cell activity and, encouragingly, the application of teardrops containing antioxidants reversed the excessive stem cell activity.
Moreover, the scientists also revealed that the corneas of long-term sleep-deprived mice contained fewer stem cells. This means that persistent stimulation of stem cell activity over longer periods led to exhaustion and loss of corneal stem cells.
Through their study, the scientists suggested that sleep deprivation negatively affects the stem cells in the cornea, possibly leading to vision impairment in the long run. However, they also claimed that more detailed studies are required to confirm that similar processes are happening in human corneal stem cells and in patients.