Researchers at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Biological Sciences have uncovered an important clue in the circadian rhythms of fruit flies that may lead to a greater understanding of sleep disorders, and possibly even some cancers, in humans. The results of the study were published in the January 2009 issue of Genetics, one of the world’s leading journals of genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology.
The circadian rhythm, present in humans and most other animals, refers to an organism’s daily cycle of biological activity and is based on a 24-hour period. It is generated by an “internal clock” that is synchronized to light-dark cycles and other environmental cues. This internal clock accounts for waking up at the same time every day and causes nocturnal animals to function at night when diurnal creatures are at rest.
"We have become a society that functions 24 hours a day, and this aspect of modern society has led to circadian problems that our ancestors never faced,” according to Jeffrey Price, Ph.D., associate professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the UMKC School of Biological Sciences and the principal investigator of the research. “It’s a trend that has undoubtedly contributed to an increasing prevalence of sleep disorders and may be a contributing factor to other conditions. I am hopeful that our work will allow us to better understand and eventually alleviate these problems."
In addition to Price, Dr. Jin-Yuan Fan was the major contributor to the work, with other contributions from UMKC graduate students Fabian Preuss and Michael Muskus and Research Assistant Edward Bjes. In their study, Price and his colleagues have shown that one key component of the “cellular machinery” that regulates circadian rhythms in fruit flies is remarkably similar to the corresponding component found in humans. This is significant because the sleep-regulating enzyme (DBT protein kinase) analyzed in this research is one of only a few possible targets for drugs that may potentially alleviate the circadian problems that lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), insomnia, and possibly some cancers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25 percent of the U.S. population report not getting enough sleep on occasion, while almost 10 percent experience chronic insomnia. Insufficient sleep is associated with several diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. It also is responsible for accidents that cause substantial injury and disability each year.
About the UMKC School of Biological Sciences
The mission of the School of Biological Sciences is to provide outstanding undergraduate and graduate education in modern biology and to advance our understanding of molecular biology through basic research. The school comprises two academic Divisions — Cell Biology & Biophysics and Molecular Biology & Biochemistry. The School's pioneering programs in molecular genetics, structural biology and proteomics nurture the intellectual capital necessary to fuel the economic development of biotechnology in Kansas City.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. Celebrating 75 years, UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a four-part mission: life and health sciences; visual and performing arts; urban issues and education; and a vibrant learning and campus life experience.