Researchers discover new gene critical for daily behavioral patterns

Life is organized according to a 24-hour clock. The primary factor in this rhythm is the circadian clock, also known as timekeepers that are present in virtually every organ tissue, cell and cell type. When a clock malfunctions and sleep disruption occurs, various illnesses can result.

A Northwestern University study published in PNAS could help us understand how this clock is linked to our daily rhythms. Neurobiologists from the University of Chicago discovered a brand new gene known as Tango10 which is vital for daily behavioral rhythms. This gene is part of a molecular pathway through which the central circadian clock (the”gears”) regulates the the cellular output of the clock (the”hands”) to regulate the daily wake-wake cycles.

The results of the study were conducted with Drosophila melanogaster, a fruit fly however, they could have implications for humans. This information could be used to develop treatments for sleep disorders, and could also help to understand the role of the clock in causing diseases such as depression and neurodegenerative disease.

Ravi Allada MD (a circadian rhythm expert) said that scientists have a lot of knowledge about the clock’s gears, but not much about the hands, the place the behaviour is created or the connection between them.

He explained, “We wanted to better understand how the daily ‘wake up signal’ tells an animal that it’s time for them to get up.” “In this study we focused on the pacemaker neurons that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. We also used genetic screening to identify genes that regulate the neurons.”

Allada is the Edgar C. Stuntz Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience and chair of the neurobiology department in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Allada is also the director of Northwestern’s Center for Sleep and Cycadian Biology and a professor in Pathology.

The Northwestern team collaborated with Matthew Moyeat, PhD at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who conducted computational modeling experiments.

The Northwestern investigators screened a number of genes that they believed could be important in the operation of the circadian clock and behavior of the flies. They found Tango10 through this process. After knocking out this gene, the flies lost its normal 24-hour pattern of behavior. Hyperactive neurons are likely to have been reduced which could have resulted in an interruption in the regular rhythm.

Under normal conditions in the fly the levels of Tango10 protein rise and down with circadian time which may alter the activity of neurons to increase and down, which can influence the animal’s sleep-wake cycle and behavior. This rhythm of daily life is disrupted in fly larvae lacking the Tango10 gene.

Our findings fill a molecular gap in our understanding of how the main gears of the clock regulate the hands.”

Ravi Allada MD, circadian rhythms expert

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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