Restoring neural resources perturbed by sleep deprivation



Cognitive Control is the ability to manage limited neural resources according to the demands of current cognitive processing. Our project investigates the effects of transiently reduced neural resources by sleep deprivation on the human cognitive control network.

Principal Investigator

CRC 1436 member Markus Ullsperger

Prof. Dr. med. Markus Ullsperger

Prof. Dr. med. Markus Ullsperger

Markus Ullsperger is full professor and head of the Department of Neuropsychology at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg since 2012 as well as a principal investigator (PI) at the Center for Behavioral Brain Sciences (CBBS) Magdeburg. His research of about 20 years aims at understanding the structural, functional and neuro-chemical aspects of performance monitoring and cognitive control. To that end he’s using an integrative approach combining neuroimaging, EEG, computational modeling and pharmacological interventions in the healthy population but also in patients with neurological or psychiatric disorders.


CRC 1436 member Theresa Schaaf

Theresa Schaaf

CRC 1436 member Jana Tegelbeckers

Dr. Jana Tegelbeckers

Dr. Jana Tegelbeckers

Jana is a postdoctoral fellow working with Prof. Markus Ullsperger in the Department of Neuropsychology at the Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg. She’s currently working on the effects of sleep deprivation on the availability and mobilization of neural resources. Her main research interest is to use functional imaging methods and non-invasive brain stimulation (tDCS, TMS) to understand alterations in information processing, cognitive control and decision making in clinical populations as for instance ADHD and substance use disorders.

Cognitive control

Goal-directed behavior requires the ability to adapt to unfavorable outcomes, unexpected changes in the environment, and to transfer knowledge to novel or uncertain situations. The recruitment of the limited neural resources to achieve these adaptations is called cognitive control. It encompasses the ongoing monitoring of progress, available resources and demands (Ullsperger et al., 2014a,b).

These processes rely on a wide-spread cognitive control network consisting of prefrontal and parietal cortices, the basal ganglia and modulatory input from the diencephalon, mesencephalon as well as the pons. In this network, the posterior medial frontal cortex (pMFC) has been identified as a key brain region for cognitive control and performance monitoring (Ridderinkhof et al., 2004).

The role of sleep

Sleep deprivation impairs cognitive control abilities leading to lapses of attention, increased distractibility and an overall reduced productivity. Presumably these impairments are caused by a reduction and alteration in the quality of neural resources and changes in functional connectivity (Krause et al. 2017). On the other hand, cognitive control is of particular importance in this transient state of reduced resource availability. Potential cognitive control measures to (re-)mobilize the available resources involve the regulation of arousal and (re-)focusing of selective attention. These interactions between resource availability and remobilisation are the research focus here.

Aim of the project

Aging as well as many psychiatric disorders are characterized by a decline in cognitive functions due to a lack of neural resources but these effects are difficult to isolate. Therefore, we’ll use sleep deprivation in healthy young adults to induce a transient functional loss of resources. This model will be used to better understand how the cognitive control network deals with resource availability and to potentially identify approaches to improving cognitive performance when resources are reduced.


For these studies we’ll investigate human participants with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We’ll compare the neural and behavioral effects of a full night of sleep deprivation on a demanding cognitive task to a baseline after a normal night’s sleep. Simultaneously to neuroimaging, we’ll measure electrical brain activity via EEG and pupil dilation via eye tracking. The data from these different sources will then be integrated to gain an understanding of the interactions between cognitive control, attention and the availability of neural resources.

Mobilization of neural resources

Arousal and vigilance significantly influence cognitive control mechanisms suggesting a role of the lateral hypothalamus and ascending reticular activation system in regulating neural resources. Particularly the neuropeptide Orexin (OX) seems to play an important role in the regulation of homeostatic functions: it tracks the state of arousal, ensuring it’s stability or adjustments if needed (Schöne and Burdakov, 2017). Furthermore, Orexin directly projects to the lateral prefrontal cortex (Lambe et al., 2005; Aracri et al., 2015) and studies in monkeys showed that attention benefits from intranasal application of OX (Weinhold et al., 2015). We thus plan to investigate the possibility of a pharmacological modulation of OX in humans in a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study.

researchers at work