Does your body clock not coincide with your wall clock? Do you often find yourself awake till late in the night and fall asleep only when the world is waking up? Don't worry anymore, your problem might have just found a solution. A new study has found the 'cells' in your brain that play a major role in determining your circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the 24 hour process that controls sleep and wake cycles, as well as other important body functions, such as hormone production, metabolism, and blood pressure. (Read: Revealed how genes control 24-hour circadian rhythm in humans)
Circadian rhythms are generated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located within the hypothalamus of the brain, but researchers were unable to pinpoint which of the many thousands of neurons in the region were involved in controlling the body's timekeeping mechanisms. UT Southwestern Medical Center's Joseph Takahashi said that they have found that a group of SCN neurons that express a neuropeptide called neuromedin S (NMS) is both necessary and sufficient for the control of circadian rhythms.(Read: Circadian rhythm disruption due to less sleep may lead to various diseases: Study)
The findings may offer important targets for future treatments of diseases and problems related to circadian dysfunction, which range from jet lag and sleep disorders to neurological problems such as Alzheimer's disease, as well as metabolism issues and psychiatric disorders such as depression. Senior author Masashi Yanagisawa said that which of these neurons are responsible for producing circadian rhythms was a major unanswered question in neurobiology. This study marks a significant advancement in the understanding of the body clock. (Read:Toying with your circadian rhythm (biological clock) can lead to brain damage)
NMS is a neuropeptide, a protein made of amino acids that neurons, which are cells in the brain, use to communicate. Researchers created unique mouse models to determine that NMS-expressing neurons act as cellular pacemakers to regulate circadian rhythms. Specifically, the research team found that modulating the internal clock in just the NMS neurons altered the circadian period throughout the whole animal. In addition, the study provided new insights into the mechanisms by which light synchronizes body clock rhythms. (Read:Gene linked to longevity also regulates body`s circadian clock)
Takahashi identified and cloned the first mammalian gene, called Clock, related to circadian rhythms. Since then, the Takahashi lab has determined that disruptions in the Clock and Bmal1 genes in mice can alter the release of insulin by the pancreas, resulting in diabetes, and they determined the 3-D structure of the CLOCK-BMAL1 protein complex, which are considered to be the batteries of the biological clock. Yanagisawa first identified the important role that endothelin plays on the cardiovascular system, and later, with his discovery of orexin, showed that sleep/wakefulness is controlled by a single neuropeptide.