You Got Rhythm Proteins at Base of Internal Clock Identified

By 1995, Los Angeles Times | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 4, 1995 | Go to article overview

You Got Rhythm Proteins at Base of Internal Clock Identified


1995, Los Angeles Times, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Researchers have obtained their first look into circadian rhythms, the hitherto mysterious internal clocks that tell humans and other animals when to fall asleep and wake up and that regulate such biological functions as hormone release and body temperature.

Gaining control of the clock, scientists say, could produce a wide variety of benefits, from helping night workers stay awake to resetting biological clocks to overcoming jet lag, as well as lowering blood pressure and improving drug metabolism.

Until now, scientists have been stymied in their search for the intracellular mechanisms that control the 24-hour cycle of the clock.

In three papers in Friday's issue of the journal Science, however, a team headed by Michael W. Young, a geneticist at Rockefeller University, reports identifying a pair of proteins whose delicate waltz with each other and with the genes that produce them is the metronomic underpinning of the cycle. Scientists do not know how exposure to light resets the cycle and precisely how the proteins regulate other body processes, but the newly discovered proteins should provide a long-sought entree into those systems, experts said.

"We are really . . . putting a lot of pieces of the jigsaw down," said Steve Kay, a biologist at the University of Virginia.

Investigators have long recognized the existence of circadian rhythms, particularly in the sleep-wake cycle and body temperatures. People living in darkened rooms and not exposed to sunlight have been found to have a natural cycle that is a little more than 24 hours, indicating that control of the sleep-wake cycle is internal rather than directed by sunlight. Researchers have observed that in the late afternoon, body temperature can be as much as 2 degrees higher than in the morning.

Scientists have now found at least 100 different circadian cycles in the human body, most of them less obvious. Blood clots most rapidly about 8 a.m., which may help explain why the largest number of strokes and heart attacks occur in the morning. Pain tolerance and athletic performance both peak in the late afternoon, as does susceptibility to the anesthesia used in surgery. …

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