April 14, 2009

Scientists model sleep control proteins

U.S. researchers say they have used a plant photolyase protein to aid them in understanding the complexities of human sleep-wake cycles.

The plant photolyase structure provides a much better model to use to study how the cryptochrome proteins in the human clock function than we have ever had before, said the study's lead investigator Kenichi Hitomi. It's like knowing for the first time where the engine is in a car. When you know what the most important parts of the protein are, then you can begin to figure out how it functions.

When scientists understand that, they can begin to fix the clock when needed, added senior author Professor Elizabeth Getzoff. In addition to decoding how the clock works, a long-term goal is to develop a drug to help people who can't reset their clock when they need to, like people who work night shifts or travel long distances. Having the three-dimensional protein is a great step forward in both of those pursuits.

The study that included Luciano DiTacchiom and Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute, Junpei Yamamoto and Shigenori Iwai of Osaka University, Sang-Tae Kim and Takeshi Todo of Kyoto University and Andrew Arvai and John Tainer of Scripps Research is reported in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.