Identification of Genes that Regulate Sleep

In biology, sleep remains one of the least understood occurrences. Since researchers discovered that sleep is regulated genetically, a lot of research has been done on two fronts: attempts to find genes that cause human sleep disorder and the development of model organisms for understanding the molecular mechanism of sleep.

Genes regulate many aspects of our lives, from how tall we grow, to how we look like. A recent study has found that genes may even play a role in human sleep habits. The scientists found two genes in mice, one that determines how much deep sleep humans get and whether or not they can dream. The researchers suggest that their findings could lead to treatments for sleep disorders.

The study carried out by Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute shows that one gene regulates the amount of non-REM sleep, which comprises deep sleep. Another gene regulates the need or amount for REM sleep, related to vivid dreaming. The discovery is an important molecular entry point to describe how sleep works and to identify better treatments for sleep disorders.

For the research, the scientists studied the sleep patterns of two genetically modified mice: “Sleepy,” a mice with alteration in the Salt-Inducible Kinase 3 Sik3 (Sik3) gene that increased REM sleep, and “Dreamless,” a mice who had a mutation in a gene know as Sodium Leak Channel Non-selective (Nalcn). Nalcn gene causes the mice to have less REM sleep. When those mutations were induced in other mice, the researchers observed that they have effects on sleep.



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