May 16, 2008

Compound Could Help Reset Body Clock

Researchers claim they may have identified a signaling molecule that could be key to understanding the way a person's body clock works.

The molecule, called cAMP is involved in keeping the body's circadian rhythms in motion. It is a highly sensitive mechanism that regulates a number of body functions, such as sleep patterns and metabolism.

Previous research has shown that disruption of these rhythms can result in an increased risk of developing insomnia, depression, heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders.

Dr. Michael Hastings and his colleagues at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology studied the action of cAMP in lab mice that had their clocks set to a 20-hour day.

They were able to reset the clock to 24 hours by using known compounds that are known to slow down the action of cAMP.

The circadian cycle works by triggering genes at the beginning of each day. Those genes work to produce proteins, which are turned off at the end of the day, and broken down over the circadian night before starting the process again the next day.

In laboratory experiments in cells the proteins were engineered to light up so the researchers could easily monitor the circadian rhythms depending on how much protein was present dependent on the activity of cAMP.

"What's neat about cAMP is that it is very easily controlled by different medicines and compounds," Hastings said.

"If you're flying to California it takes eight to nine hours and the body clock can adjust by one hour for each day so it takes about a week and then you have to come back."

"What we need to do is slow down the clock for that first day from 24 to 36 hours so you would already be in sync with California time," he said.

Hastings also said that MRC has filed a patent for the development of treatments that regulate cAMP in hopes of helping people "reset" their clocks.

"This is very interesting from a biological basis but the perils and pitfalls of trying to develop new methods for regulation of sleep are great," said Cr. Neil Stanley, a sleep expert at Norwich University Hospital.

"For example melatonin hasn't really fulfilled its promise and it's been harder to use it usefully than people once hoped."


On the Net:

The Laboratory of Molecular Biology


British Sleep Society