Life is organized around the clock. At the heart of this regular rhythm is the circadian clock, a timepiece found in virtually every type of organ, tissue and cell. When a clock goes wrong, sleep disturbances or a variety of diseases can occur. A Northwestern University discovery could help understand how this clock relates to daily cycles: a new gene, called Tango10, has been identified, which is critical to daily rhythms.
This gene is involved in a molecular pathway through which the central circadian clock (the “gears”) controls the cellular output of the clock (the “hands”) to control daily sleep-wake cycles. Although the research was conducted using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, the findings have implications for humans, according to the researchers.
Knowing how this path works could lead to therapies to help treat sleep problems and could shed light on human diseases related to the circadian clock, such as depression, neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases. When the researchers eliminated this gene, the fly lost its normal 24-hour behavior pattern. Some potassium currents were reduced and likely led to overactive neurons and contributed to a loss of regular rhythm. Under normal conditions, however, the levels of the Tango10 protein rise and fall with the circadian rhythm. The work was published in the scientific journal PNAS.
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