One step closer: the pill that brings jet lag down to earth

Scientists blocked particular gene to improve the recovery time of mice

Scientists have moved a step closer to creating a specialist pill for jet lag, after research in mice revealed a possible mechanism for speeding up the body's natural response to moving across time zones.

Researchers at the University of Oxford found they could improve the recovery time of mice exposed to irregular patterns of light and dark by blocking a particular gene in the brain, responsible for regulating the body's internal clock.

Nearly all living things have an internal, subcellular mechanism - known as the circadian clock - that synchronises a variety of bodily functions to the 24-hour rhythm of the Earth's rotation. The circadian clock is regulated by a number of stimuli - chief among them light detected by the eye.

But when daily patterns of light and dark are disrupted - as when we travel across several time-zones - the body clock falls out of synch, resulting in several days of fatigue and discomfort as our cells adjust to new daily patterns - experienced by long-haul fliers as jet lag. The body takes about one day to adjust for every time zone crossed.

To understand the effect this has on the brain, researchers at the University of Oxford exposed mice to irregular patterns of light and dark to simulate moving across time zones.

They monitored the activity of genes in the part of the brain responsible for setting the circadian clock - the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) and observed that hundreds of genes were activated by light detected from the eye, all of which helped the body adjust to a new day-night rhythm.

However, one particular molecule, called SIK1, was found to have the opposite effect when activated by light - deactivating the body's response to light adjustments and therefore slowing down it's adjustment to a new time zone.

By injecting a small interfering RNA - a tiny strand of genetic material that can interfere with the function of a gene - scientists were able to block the action of the SIK1 molecule, meaning that the mice were able to adjust their body clocks far more quickly. A simulated time zone difference that had taken five or six days to adjust to, now took just one or two days.

"We've identified a system that actively prevents the body clock from re-adjusting," said Dr Stuart Peirson, the study team leader and a senior research scientist at Oxford's Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. "If you think about, it makes sense to have a buffering mechanism in place to provide some stability to the clock… But it is this same buffering mechanism that slows down our ability to adjust to a new time zone and causes jet lag."

He told The Independent that although a pill for jet lag was several years away, the study provided a possible route for development.

"A small interfering RNA is a neat molecular way of being able to turn off one gene within cells," he said. "There's no reason you couldn't develop specific drugs to inhibit this particular mechanism, so it should be possible in the future to develop drugs that allow us to adjust more quickly and help alleviate jet lag."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living