Academic journal article Science Scope

Sleep Control

Academic journal article Science Scope

Sleep Control

Article excerpt

While scientists and physicians know what happens if you don't get six to eight hours of shut-eye a night, investigators have long been puzzled about what controls the actual need for sleep. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine might have an answer, at least in fruit flies. In a recent study of fruit flies, they identified a gene that controls sleep.

"We spend--or should spend--a third of our lives sleeping," says Amita Sehgal, professor of neuroscience and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Fruit flies typically sleep 12 hours a day. Sehgal and her team studied 3,500 fruit flies and found mutants that survived on little to no sleep--one to two hours a day or none at all. The sleepless flies had a mutation of a gene that Sehgal and her team have named Sleepless. They believe the Sleepless gene encodes a protein that affects whether potassium ion channels in the brain stay open or closed. When the channels are open, the brain is connected and working--the fly is awake. When closed, the channel shuts down and the fly sleeps. …

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