Ever wondered why you wake up in the morning ---- even when the alarm clock isn't making jarring noises? Wonder no more. Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified a new component of the biological clock, a gene responsible for starting the clock from its restful state every morning. The biological clock ramps up our metabolism early each day, initiating important physiological functions that tell our bodies that it's time to rise and shine. Discovery of this new gene and the mechanism by which it starts the clock everyday may help explain the genetic underpinnings of sleeplessness, aging, and chronic illnesses, such as cancer and diabetes, and could eventually lead to new therapies for these illnesses. "The body is essentially a collection of clocks," says Dr. Satchindananda Panda, an associate professor in Salk's Regulatory Biology Laboratory, who led the research along with Dr. Luciano DiTacchio, a post-doctoral research associate. "We roughly knew what mechanism told the clock to wind down at night, but we didn't know what activated us again in the morning. Now that we've found it, we can explore more deeply how our biological clocks malfunction as we get older and develop chronic illness." In a report published online on September 30, 2011, in the journal Science, the Salk researchers and their collaborators at McGill University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine describe how the gene KDM5A encodes a protein, JARID1a, that serves as an activation switch in the biochemical circuit that maintains our circadian rhythm. The discovery fills in a missing link in the molecular mechanisms that control our daily wake-sleep cycle. The central player of our biological clock is a protein called PERIOD (PER). The number of PER proteins in each of our cells rises and falls every 24 hours.
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