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Muscles may hold key to treating sleep disorders

August 5, 2017

It was always thought that the brain was the only controller with regards to sleep. A recent study suggests otherwise.

The widely accepted notion that the brain is the sole controller of sleep has been challenged in a recent study, according to a news release Thursday by the UT Southwestern Medical Center.

The study published in research journal eLife indicates that a protein in the muscle could reduce the effects of sleep deprivation in mice.

The “circadian clock protein in the muscle – BMAL1 – regulates the length and manner of sleep,” the news release said.

The study found that while the presence or absence of BMAL1 in mice brain had little effect on their sleep recovery, higher levels of the protein in their muscles helped them recover from sleep deprivation more quickly.

Furthermore, eliminating BMAL1 from their muscles caused a severe disruption in normal sleep patterns, leading to a heightened need for sleep, deeper sleep and a diminished ability to recover.

This means that scientists now have a new avenue to explore, apart from the brain, with regards to finding solutions and therapies for those with sleep disorders.

“This finding is completely unexpected and changes the ways we think sleep is controlled,” said Joseph S. Takahashi, chairman of neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

 

According to Takahashi, this could potentially lead to therapies for those in occupations which require being awake for long stretches, like in the military or aviation.

“These studies show that factors in muscles can signal to the brain to influence sleep. If similar pathways exist in people, this would provide new drug targets for the treatment of sleep disorders,” Takahashi elaborated.

The study was a collaboration between Peter O’Donnell from the UT Southwestern Medical Center, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the University Florida.

It was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

The study concluded “BMAL1 expression in skeletal muscle is both necessary and sufficient to regulate total sleep amount and reveal that critical components of normal sleep regulation occur in muscle.”

According to the Harvard Gazette, the circadian clock is an internal biological clock that drives all living beings including plants. Although endogenous in nature, they can be “modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature,” according to the Science Daily.

Circadian rhythms are thought to be central to the feeding and sleeping patterns of humans and animals. It is clearly evident that biological processes like cell regeneration, hormone production and brain wave activity are linked to this cycle.

According to the American Sleep Association, sleep deprivation leads to fatigue, clumsiness, daytime sleepiness, weight loss and weight gain.

Other effects include moodiness and diabetes. It is believed that people who experience short-term sleep restrictions are unable to process glucose as well as those who get eight hours of sleep, leading to an increased chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.

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