Research article

BMC Neuroscience

, 13:89

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Topography-specific spindle frequency changes in Obstructive Sleep Apnea

  • Suzana V SchönwaldAffiliated withSleep Laboratory, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre
  • , Diego Z CarvalhoAffiliated withSleep Laboratory, Division of Pulmonary Medicine, Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre
  • , Emerson L de Santa-HelenaAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Universidade Federal de Sergipe
  • , Ney LemkeAffiliated withDepartment of Physics and Biophysics, Institute of Biosciences, Univ Estadual Paulista (UNESP) Email author 
  • , Günther J L GerhardtAffiliated withDepartment of Physics and Chemistry, Universidade de Caxias do Sul



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