Researchers Uncover Clue in Jetlag Riddle

By Jesse Sokolow on 3 September 2013
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New research shows why the body is slow to recover from jetlag.Westin Heavenly  In addition, scientists have identified a target for the development of drugs that could help adjust more quickly to changes in time zone.

Researchers at Oxford University and F. Hoffman La Roche, a pharmaceutical company, identified a mechanism in mice that limits the ability of the body’s internal clock to adjust to changes in patterns of light and dark.  These studies showed that, if the activity of this gene is blocked in mice, they recover faster from disturbances in their daily light and dark cycle that simulate jetlag.

Much of life on Earth has an internal body clock that operates on a 24-hour cycle.  In this cycle, a variety of bodily functions, such as sleeping and eating, are synchronized with the patterns of light and dark in a solar day.

In mammals, the circadian rhythm (body clock) is controlled by an area of the brain called the suprachiamsatic nuclei (SCN).  As part of their research, the scientists examined patterns of gene expression in the SCN of mice after pulses of light during the hours of darkness.

One molecule, called SIK1, was identified.  The molecule acts as a brake to limit the effects of light on the body clock, and when the activity of this molecule was blocked, the mice adjusted faster to changes in light cycle.

“We’re still several years away from a cure for jet-lag,” said Professor Russell Foster, director of the Oxford University Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute.  “Understanding the mechanisms that generate and regulate our circadian clock gives us targets to develop drugs to help bring our bodies in tune with the solar cycle.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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