November 30, 2009
New Help For Jet Lag?
New research may hold the key to fighting the effects of jet lag by resetting the body's clock.
A research team from the University of Manchester analyzed certain cells, which they claim are essential in the regulation of the body's clock.The cells were previously believed to remain inactive during the daytime, but the research indicated that this is not the case.
The team challenged the idea that the brain regulates the body clock by firing more cells during daylight and very few at night.
"The traditional model said the clock and the brain communicated to the rest of the brain via the number of electrical impulses that the brain cells were producing," Professor Piggins, an expert in neuroscience at the university, told the BBC World Service's Health Check program.
"These impulses would travel around the brain, telling it what time of day it is. What we've found is in fact that there are at least two types of cells in this part of the brain."
These brain cells act differently than any previously observed cell, and they contain an important gene, per1, which lets them sustain unusually high levels of "excitability".
The cells are so "excited" that they appear to be still or even dead, but once they calm down and recover they return to their normal active state.
This is the activity that signals the human body to a state of wakefulness.
"There's a lot of interest in the pharmaceutical industry, obviously, to try to develop chemical treatments to reset your daily clock to help counteract things like jetlag," Piggins added.
"Or, perhaps more importantly, different kind of sleep disorders for which dysfunctions in this clock are often involved."
This research marks the first time such "quiet" cells have ever been studied.
"This may mean that elsewhere in the brain there are cells like this that can also survive these very unusual conditions."
Eventually, these findings could make way for treating sleep disorders caused by body clock malfunction.
"There's a lot of interest in the pharmaceutical industry, obviously, to try to develop chemical treatments to reset your daily clock," said Piggins.
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