|Sleep, (Dan Race/Fotolia.com) |
Jet-lag, insomnia and other sleep disturbances may soon be a thing of the past thanks to new research that suggests there may be a way to adjust our internal clocks much more quickly than by putting up black-out blinds and trying to “catch up” on sleep.
Anyone who works the graveyard shift or travels across time zones knows how their so-called circadian rhythm can be disrupted, but scientists are not entirely sure why. Researchers at Montreal’s McGill and Concordia universities believe they’ve identified a key part of the process that helps regulate that rhythm.
In the ongoing process called protein synthesis, older proteins in the body degrade and new ones form, and there are about a dozen “core clock proteins” involved in resetting our clocks so we’re synchronized to the external environment.
Experiments on mice showed researchers how eliminating one of those proteins helps speed up the adjustment. Cao found that mice who lacked a protein called 4E-BP1, which blocks protein synthesis, overcame a jet-lag-like state in about half the time as regular mice. That was a surprise, because typically, the lack of a protein would tend to diminish the body’s functioning rather than improve it.
“A stronger clock function may help improve many physiological processes, such as aging,” Cao said. “In addition, understanding the molecular mechanisms of biological clocks may contribute to the development of time-managing drugs.”
But don’t expect a magic jet-lag pill anytime soon. Cao says the research sheds new light on the process of the circadian clock but it’s not yet clear how the knowledge could be applied in a practical way. Protein synthesis is a fundamental process that affects a number of activities in the body. Any drug that suppressed the 4E-BP1 protein might inhibit not only the circadian clock adjustment but also many other functions that should not be inhibited.
The findings are published in the neuroscience journal Neuron.
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