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The discovery of cellular switches in the bio-clock that tells the body when to sleep and metabolise food may lead to new drugs to treat sleep problems and metabolic disorders, including diabetes. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, led by Ronald M. Evans, professor in its Gene Expression Lab, showed that two cellular switches found on the nucleus of mouse cells, known as REV-ERB and REV-ERB , are essential for maintaining normal sleeping and eating cycles and for metabolism of nutrients from food. The findings describe a powerful link between circadian rhythms and metabolism and suggest a new avenue for treating disorders of both systems, including jet lag, sleep disorders, obesity and diabetes, the journal Nature reported.
"This fundamentally changes our knowledge about the workings of the circadian clock and how it orchestrates our sleep-wake cycles, when we eat and even the times our bodies metabolize nutrients," said Evans, according to a university statement. "Nuclear (pertaining to nucleus) receptors can be targeted with drugs, which suggests we might be able to target REV-ERBa and to treat disorders of sleep and metabolism," added Evans. Nurses, emergency personnel and others who work shifts that alter the normal 24-hour cycle of waking and sleeping are at much higher risk for a number of diseases, including metabolic disorders such as diabetes. In mammals, the circadian timing system is orchestrated by a central clock in the brain and subsidiary clocks in most other organs. The master clock in the brain is set by light and determines the overall diurnal or nocturnal preference of an animal, including sleep-wake cycles and feeding behaviour.
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