Total Sleep Deprivation Biomarkers Study and How to Participate

November 4, 2016




There is a pressing need for fast-acting treatments for depression. Existing treatments are inadequate for many patients suffering from depression – standard antidepressants may take weeks to months before patients experience symptom relief, and only one-third of patients are adequately treated by these standard antidepressants. There are a number of treatment options which are fast-acting, but there are limitations with each such as short-lasting effectiveness, undesirable side-effects, and/or the inability to use the treatment on a long-term basis. While these fast-acting treatments may not be optimal for sustained treatment, they are very useful for isolating what biological changes occur when an antidepressant treatment works. Recognizing an opportunity for greater understanding, Dr. Eliza Congdon and colleagues are conducting the Depression Grand Challenge (DGC) Biomarkers study. Their research group is investigating what occurs biologically with the following three fast-acting treatments for depression: serial ketamine infusion, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and total sleep deprivation. This post focuses on the Total Sleep Deprivation Study.

What’s Involved with the Total Sleep Deprivation Study

For patients suffering from depression, overnight sleep deprivation may improve symptoms within the 24-hour window of treatment. While sleep deprivation is not a long-lasting treatment (since depressive symptoms return after the patient returns to sleep), this study may provide insight into the mechanisms of who responds to treatment and why.

In the total sleep deprivation treatment study, participants will be required to come to the lab on four separate visits, and during one of these visits will be required to remain awake for at least 31 hours, under continual observation. Eliza and her team will collect brain scans and blood samples in order to measure brain changes, genomic activity, and inflammatory activity—each of which can signal changes in neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to create new connections and adaptively respond to environmental input.

What the Team Hopes to Find

Studying the underlying neurobiological response that occurs during the sleep deprivation treatment could identify specific characteristics of brain activity and gene activity that indicate a positive response to treatment. Identifying markers of treatment response will also inform future studies within the DGC aimed at using biomarkers to better tailor treatment strategies for patients seeking relief from depression.

How to Get Involved

The sleep deprivation study demonstrates one of the ways the DGC aims to develop alternative treatments for depression by first understanding the biological mechanisms of both depression and effective treatments of depression. These findings have the potential to improve the lives of individuals battling depression around the world.

If you are interested in being a part of this unprecedented effort, the total sleep deprivation study is recruiting healthy control participants and depressed individuals with a history of treatment resistance. For more information about study participation, please reference the information below.



Explore the overview of the Depression Grand Challenge human studies demonstration projects to learn more about current and anticipated studies.


This article was written by UCLA Student/Depression Grand Challenge Student Worker, Emilia Szmyrgala.