Switch-task performance in rats is disturbed by 12 h of sleep deprivation but not by 12 h of sleep fragmentation

Cathalijn H.C. Leenaars*, Ruud N.J.M.A. Joosten, Allard Zwart, Hans Sandberg, Emma Ruimschotel, Maaike A.J. Hanegraaf, Maurice Dematteis, Matthijs G.P. Feenstra, Eus J.W. Van Someren

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Study Objectives: Task-switching is an executive function involving the prefrontal cortex. Switching temporarily attenuates the speed and/or accuracy of performance, phenomena referred to as switch costs. In accordance with the idea that prefrontal function is particularly sensitive to sleep loss, switch-costs increase during prolonged waking in humans. It has been difficult to investigate the underlying neurobiological mechanisms because of the lack of a suitable animal model. Here, we introduce the first switch-task for rats and report the effects of sleep deprivation and inactivation of the medial prefrontal cortex. Design: Rats were trained to repeatedly switch between 2 stimulus-response associations, indicated by the presentation of a visual or an auditory stimulus. These stimulus-response associations were offered in blocks, and performance was compared for the first and fifth trials of each block. Performance was tested after exposure to 12 h of total sleep deprivation, sleep fragmentation, and their respective movement control conditions. Finally, it was tested after pharmacological inactivation of the medial prefrontal cortex. Settings: Controlled laboratory settings. Participants: 15 male Wistar rats. Measurements & Results: Both accuracy and latency showed switch-costs at baseline. Twelve hours of total sleep deprivation, but not sleep fragmentation, impaired accuracy selectively on the switch-trials. Inactivation of the medial prefrontal cortex by local neuronal inactivation resulted in an overall decrease in accuracy. Conclusions: We developed and validated a switch-task that is sensitive to sleep deprivation. This introduces the possibility for in-depth investigations on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying executive impairments after sleep disturbance in a rat model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-221
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012

Cite this

Leenaars, C. H. C., Joosten, R. N. J. M. A., Zwart, A., Sandberg, H., Ruimschotel, E., Hanegraaf, M. A. J., ... Van Someren, E. J. W. (2012). Switch-task performance in rats is disturbed by 12 h of sleep deprivation but not by 12 h of sleep fragmentation. Sleep, 35(2), 211-221. https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.1624