Scientists one step closer to jet lag cure
All of us have no doubt been on the receiving end of a harsh dose of jet lag after a long trip. While fatigue and insomnia are the most common symptoms, a person can also suffer from indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea as well as anxiousness, loss of appetite and light-headedness. But all these issues could be a thing of the past now scientists have discovered the 'mechanism' that makes the body clock tick.
The molecular 'switch' regulates the body's circadian clock and allows it to keep time. Scientists in Singapore believe their discovery could help them develop new treatments for jet lag, as well as insomnia triggered by shift work and metabolic disorders.
"This study sheds light on one of the biggest mysteries of the circadian clock in the last 60 years and has helped to explain some of the basic mechanisms that govern the timing of the clock," said study co-leader Professor David Virshup, of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore.
The 24-hour cycle of the circadian body clock is normally synchronised with the rising and setting of the sun to make sure we sleep at night.
The scientists said one of the reasons this is possible is because the body clock is relatively insensitive to small changes in temperature.
Otherwise, the body clock could run too fast when it is hot or too slow when it's cold.
"By using both biochemical analysis and mathematical modelling we demonstrated how the core circadian clock keeps to a 24-hour cycle despite temperature changes and metabolic changes," Professor Virshup added in the findings, which were published in the journal Molecular Cell. "Our study also provides a mathematical model that predicts the behaviour of the clock under different circumstances, so we have a good idea of when each drug will have an optimal effect to fight the effects of jet lag and shift work."
The team discovered that the stability of a protein called PER2, which is critical to determining the timing of our body clocks, is dependent on a process called 'phosphorylation' which acts as the switch.
This gives the researchers and scientists a potential drug target to influence the behaviour of the circadian clock, making jet lag a thing of the past.