Gene Mutation Found In Flies May Be Responsible For Insomnia

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It seems like every month or two a new study comes out showing how bad sleeping patterns can be detrimental to your mental health. It is clear that insomnia can affect diet, cognitive abilities, and even motor function, but science is still attempting to understand what causes the inability to sleep. But, they believe they have found the key hidden deep within the ordinary housefly.

Sleeping ManResearchers found a gene mutation in fruit flies that enabled them to develop a version of insomnia. Potentially the finding could help those who suffer from generalized insomnia, but it could also contribute to widespread improved mental health if insomnia can be treated and sleeping patterns can be more regulated.

“We know that the timing of sleep is regulated by the body’s internal biological clock, but just how this occurs has been a mystery,” study researcher Dr. Mark N. Wu, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurology, medicine, genetic medicine and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. “We have now found the first protein ever identified that translates timing information from the body’s circadian clock and uses it to regulate sleep.”

The researchers identified a gene, which they affectionately call the “Wide Awake” gene, which seems to help deliver the “time to sleep” message from the circadian clock to the brain.

The researchers were able to pick out flies that had trouble falling asleep, and they discovered these flies had mutations which affected the ability of the brain’s clock neurons (which control arousal) to receive signals from a neurotransmitter called GABA, as explained in the journal Neuron. These mutations kept the arousal circuits of the brain from quieting down, impairing the ability to sleep.

Researchers noted that the “Wide Awake” gene is also present in humans, chickens, mice, and even worms. When they studied the gene in mice, they noted the gene was expressed in high concentrations in the “master clock” region, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

“Because we found the protein in a location where it likely plays a role in circadian rhythms and sleep, we are encouraged that this protein may do the same thing in mice and people,” Wu said in the statement.

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