Drowsy Drosophila shed light on sleep and hunger

October 3, 2013
This is an image of Drosophila (fruit flies). Credit: Mike Lovett

Why does hunger keep us awake and a full belly make us tired? Why do people with sleep disorders such as insomnia often binge eat late at night? What can sleep patterns tell us about obesity?

Sleep, hunger and metabolism are closely related, but scientists are still struggling to understand how they interact. Now, Brandeis University researchers have discovered a function in a molecule in that may provide insight into the complicated relationship between and food.

In the October issue of the journal Neuron, Brandeis scientists report that sNPF, a neuropeptide long known to regulate food intake and metabolism, is also an important component in regulating and promoting sleep. When researchers activated sNPF in fruit flies, the insects fell asleep almost immediately, awaking only long enough to eat before nodding off again. The flies were so sleepy that once they found a food source, they slept right on top of it for days—like falling asleep on a giant hamburger bun and waking up long enough to take a few nibbles before falling back to sleep.

When researchers returned sNPF functions to normal, the flies resumed their normal level of activity, leaving behind their couch potato ways.

The researchers, led by professor of biology Leslie Griffith, concluded that sNPF has an important regulatory function in sleep in addition to its previously known function coordinating behaviors such as eating and metabolism.

"This paper provides a nice bridge between feeding behavior and sleep behavior with just a single molecule," says Nathan Donelson, a post doctoral fellow in Griffith's lab and one of the study's lead authors.

Neurons use neuropeptides to communicate a range of brain functions including learning, , memory and social behaviors. In humans, Neuropeptide Y functions similarly to sNPF and has been studied as a possible drug target for obesity treatment.

But scientists don't fully understand how regulating neuropeptide function at specific times and in specific cells affects sleeping and eating. By studying sNPF in fruit flies, scientists can learn which cells, neurotransmitters and genes are involved in eating and sleeping; what processes turn on and inhibit the behaviors, and how sleep cells are relevant to hunger drive.

"Our paper makes a significant step into tying all these things together," says Donelson, "and that is extremely important down the road to our understanding of human health."

Explore further: Sleeping too little—or too much—associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity

Related Stories

Sleeping too little—or too much—associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity

October 1, 2013
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links too little sleep (six hours or less) and too much sleep (10 or more hours) with chronic diseases—including coronary heart disease, diabetes, anxiety ...

Sleep deprivation increases food purchasing the next day

September 5, 2013
People who were deprived of one night's sleep purchased more calories and grams of food in a mock supermarket on the following day in a new study published in the journal Obesity, the official journal of The Obesity Society. ...

Unusual comparison nets new sleep loss marker

May 3, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—For years, Paul Shaw, PhD, a researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has used what he learns in fruit flies to look for markers of sleep loss in humans.

Recommended for you

'Selfish brain' wins out when competing with muscle power, study finds

October 20, 2017
Human brains are expensive - metabolically speaking. It takes lot of energy to run our sophisticated grey matter, and that comes at an evolutionary cost.

Researchers find shifting relationship between flexibility, modularity in the brain

October 19, 2017
A new study by Rice University researchers takes a step toward what they see as key to the advance of neuroscience: a better understanding of the relationship between the brain's flexibility and its modularity.

Want to control your dreams? Here's how

October 19, 2017
New research at the University of Adelaide has found that a specific combination of techniques will increase people's chances of having lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware they're dreaming while it's still happening ...

Brain training can improve our understanding of speech in noisy places

October 19, 2017
For many people with hearing challenges, trying to follow a conversation in a crowded restaurant or other noisy venue is a major struggle, even with hearing aids. Now researchers reporting in Current Biology on October 19th ...

Investigating the most common genetic contributor to Parkinson's disease

October 19, 2017
LRRK2 gene mutations are the most common genetic cause of Parkinson's disease (PD), but the normal physiological role of this gene in the brain remains unclear. In a paper published in Neuron, Brigham and Women's Hospital ...

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

October 19, 2017
Researchers at the University of Tübingen have become the first to keep human brain tissue alive outside the body for several weeks. The researchers, headed by Dr. Niklas Schwarz, Dr. Henner Koch and Dr. Thomas Wuttke at ...

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.