Creating a free account will enable you to subscribe to our daily and weekly email newsletters, as well as customize your reading experience to show only the categories most relevant to you.
Signing up only take a few minutes, so why not give it a try and see what you've been missing out on.
All creatures great and small, including fruitflies, need sleep. Researchers have surmised that sleep - in any species - is necessary for repairing proteins, consolidating memories, and removing wastes from cells. But, really, sleep is still a great mystery.
The timing of when we sleep versus are awake is controlled by cells in tune with circadian rhythms of light and dark. Most of the molecular components of that internal clock have been worked out. On the other hand, how much we sleep is regulated by another process called sleep homeostasis, however little is known about its molecular basis.
In a study published in eLIFE, Amita Sehgal, PhD, professor of Neuroscience at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues, report a new protein involved in the homeostatic regulation of sleep in the fruitfly, Drosophila. Sehgal is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
The researchers conducted a screen of mutant flies to identify short-sleeping individuals and found one, which they dubbed redeye. These mutants show a severe reduction in the amount of time they slumber, sleeping only half as long as normal flies. While the redeye mutants were able to fall asleep, they would wake again in only a few minutes.
The team found that the redeye gene encodes a subunit of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. This type of acetylcholine receptor consists of multiple protein subunits, which form an ion channel in the cell membrane, and, as the name implies, also binds to nicotine. Although acetylcholine signaling -- and cigarette smoking -- typically promote wakefulness, the particular subunit studied in the eLIFE paper is required for sleep in Drosophila.
Levels of the redeye protein in the fly oscillate with the cycles of light and dark and peak at times of daily sleep. Normally, the redeye protein is expressed at times of increasing sleep need in the fly, right around the afternoon siesta and at the time of night-time sleep. From this, the team concluded that the redeye protein promotes sleep and is a marker for sleepiness - suggesting that redeye signals an acute need for sleep, and then helps to maintain sleep once it is underway.
In addition, cycling of the redeye protein is independent of the circadian clock in normal day:night cycles, but depends on the sleep homeostat. The team concluded this because redeye protein levels are upregulated in short-sleeping mutants as well as in wild-type animals following sleep deprivation. And, mutant flies had normal circadian rhythms, suggesting that their sleep problems were the result of disrupted sleep/wake homeostasis.
Ultimately the team wants to use the redeye gene to locate sleep homeostat neurons in the brain. "We propose that the homeostatic drive to sleep increases levels of the redeye protein, which responds to this drive by promoting sleep," says Sehgal. Identification of molecules that reflect sleep drive could lead to the development of biomarkers for sleep, and may get us closer to revealing the mystery of the sleep homeostat.
Co-authors are Mi Shi, Zhifeng Yue, Alexandre Kuryatov, and Jon Lindstrom all from Penn. This study was funded by HHMI.
Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press release. Click 'references' tab above for source.
Visit our Sleep / Sleep Disorders / Insomnia category page for the latest news on this subject.
Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "Clues to the mystery of the need for sleep." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 7 Feb. 2014. Web.
10 Mar. 2014. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/272237>
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. (2014, February 7). "Clues to the mystery of the need for sleep." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
Please note: If no author information is provided, the source is cited instead.
If you write about specific medications, operations, or procedures please do not name healthcare professionals by name.
For any corrections of factual information, or to contact our editorial team, please use our feedback form. Please send any medical news or health news press releases to:
Note: Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a health care professional. For more information, please read our terms and conditions.
This page was printed from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/272237.php
Visit www.medicalnewstoday.com for medical news and health news headlines posted throughout the day, every day.
© 2004-2014 All rights reserved. MNT (logo) is the registered trade mark of MediLexicon International Limited.