Researchers discover new way to improve internal clock function

August 21, 2013
Putting sleep disorders to bed

Overnight flights across the Atlantic, graveyard shifts, stress-induced insomnia are all prime culprits in keeping us from getting a good night's sleep. Thanks to new research from McGill University and Concordia University, however, these common sleep disturbances may one day be put to bed.

The rotation of the earth generates day and night. It also confers to all living beings. In mammals, something known as a "" in the brain drives daily rhythms in sleep and wakefulness, feeding and metabolism, and many other essential processes. But the inner workings of this brain clock are complex, and the behind it have eluded scientists—until now.

In a new study published in Neuron, researchers have identified how a fundamental called is controlled within the body's circadian clock—the internal mechanism that controls one's daily rhythms. Their findings may help shed light on future treatments for disorders triggered by circadian clock dysfunction, including jet lag, shift work disorders, and chronic conditions like depression and Parkinson's disease.

"To understand and treat the causes and symptoms of circadian abnormalities, we have to take a closer look at the fundamental that control our ," says study co-author Dr. Shimon Amir, professor in Concordia University's Department of Psychology.

To do so, Amir and co-author Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, a James McGill professor in the Dept. of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre at McGill University, studied how protein synthesis is controlled in the brain clock. "We identified a repressor protein in the clock and found that by removing this protein, the brain clock function was surprisingly improved," explains Dr. Sonenberg.

Because all mammals have similar circadian clocks, the team used mice to conduct their experiments. They studied mice that lacked this specific protein, known as 4E-BP1, which blocks the important function of protein synthesis. They found that the mice that lacked this protein overcame disruptions to their circadian clocks more quickly.

"In modern society, with the frequency of trans-time zone travel, we often deal with annoying jet lag problems, which usually require a couple of weeks of transition," says Dr.Ruifeng Cao, a postdoctoral fellow who works with Drs. Sonenberg and Amir, "However, by inducing a state like jet lag in the mice lacking that protein, we found they were able to adapt to time zones changes in about half of the time required by regular mice."

Furthermore, the researchers found that a small protein that is critical for brain clock function, vasoactive intestinal peptide or VIP, was increased in the mice lacking the 4E-BP1. The results indicate that the functioning of the circadian clock could be improved by genetic manipulations, opening doors on new ways to treat circadian clock-related disorders.

"A stronger clock function may help improve many physiological processes, such as aging," says Cao. "In addition, understanding the molecular mechanisms of biological clocks may contribute to the development of time-managing drugs," Amir concurs, noting that "the more we know about these mechanisms, the better able we will be to solve problems associated with disruptions to our bodies' internal clocks".

Explore further: Key protein is linked to circadian clocks, helps regulate metabolism

Related Stories

Key protein is linked to circadian clocks, helps regulate metabolism

June 18, 2013
Inside each of us is our own internal timing device. It drives everything from sleep cycles to metabolism, but the inner-workings of this so-called "circadian clock" are complex, and the molecular processes behind it have ...

Energy levels link sleep control mechanisms

May 25, 2012
Sleep, or lack of it, can determine level of cognitive performance which is linked with accidents as well as increased risk of serious health problems. Links between cell energy levels, gene transcription and sleep rhythms ...

Circadian rhythms control body's response to intestinal infections

May 31, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Circadian rhythms can boost the body's ability to fight intestinal bacterial infections, UC Irvine researchers have found.

Study finds that a gene associated with longevity also regulates the body's circadian clock

June 20, 2013
Human sleeping and waking patterns are largely governed by an internal circadian clock that corresponds closely with the 24-hour cycle of light and darkness. This circadian clock also controls other body functions, such as ...

Body clock genes unravelled

May 3, 2012
International travellers, shift workers and even people suffering from obesity-related conditions stand to benefit from a key discovery about the functioning of the body's internal clock.

Recommended for you

Researchers find monkey brain structure that decides if viewed objects are new or unidentified

August 18, 2017
A team of researchers working at the University of Tokyo School of Medicine has found what they believe is the part of the monkey brain that decides if something that is being viewed is recognizable. In their paper published ...

Artificial neural networks decode brain activity during performed and imagined movements

August 18, 2017
Artificial intelligence has far outpaced human intelligence in certain tasks. Several groups from the Freiburg excellence cluster BrainLinks-BrainTools led by neuroscientist private lecturer Dr. Tonio Ball are showing how ...

How whip-like cell appendages promote bodily fluid flow

August 18, 2017
Researchers at Nagoya University have identified a molecule that enables cell appendages called cilia to beat in a coordinated way to drive the flow of fluid around the brain; this prevents the accumulation of this fluid, ...

Study of nervous system cells can help to understand degenerative diseases

August 18, 2017
The results of a new study show that many of the genes expressed by microglia differ between humans and mice, which are frequently used as animal models in research on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Researchers make surprising discovery about how neurons talk to each other

August 17, 2017
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have uncovered the mechanism by which neurons keep up with the demands of repeatedly sending signals to other neurons. The new findings, made in fruit flies and mice, challenge ...

Neurons involved in learning, memory preservation less stable, more flexible than once thought

August 17, 2017
The human brain has a region of cells responsible for linking sensory cues to actions and behaviors and cataloging the link as a memory. Cells that form these links have been deemed highly stable and fixed.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.