Jet lag: Could it finally be a thing of the past?

Scientists have found out more about what switches on the body clock on and off

Tom Brooks-Pollock
Friday 02 October 2015 14:07
The study has found out more about the sleep 'switch'
The study has found out more about the sleep 'switch'

Jet lag could finally be a thing of the past – because scientists have discovered more about the ‘switch’ that regulates the body’s natural clock.

The body’s circadian rhythms, which regulate sleep, are controlled by a protein called Period2, or PER2. The study has cast more light on how it works.

PER2 – which can be seen as a natural ‘switch’ for turning sleep on and off – responds to light, and the rising and setting of the sun.

But it is less sensitive to heat, with temperature making no discernible difference to the body clock. But scientists did not fully understand why.

Researchers say jet lag could be treated with drugs thanks to the findings

Now scientists from Signapore, writing in the journal Molecular Cell, have shown that PER2 responds to heat – and is able to fine-tune the body clock accordingly.

The discovery could lead to the development of drugs to maintain the circadian clock’s natural speed thus, in theory, allowing the body to avoid lost sleep because of jet lag or shift work.

David Virshup, of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore, said: “This study sheds light on one of the biggest mysteries of the circadian clock in the last 60 years and has helped to explain some of the basic mechanisms that govern the timing of the clock.

“By using both biochemical analysis and mathematical modelling we demonstrated how the core circadian clock keeps to a 24-hour cycle despite temperature changes and metabolic changes.

“Our study also provides a mathematical model that predicts the behaviour of the clock under different circumstances, so we have a good idea of when each drug will have an optimal effect to fight the effects of jet lag and shift work.”

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