First Two Genes Regulating Sleep Are Identified in Mice

Researchers have identified the first two core genes that regulate the amount of deep sleep and dreaming--a key development that the scientists believe will lead to the discovery of a network of related genes controlling sleep. The study, from the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center and collaborating institutions, demonstrates in mice that a single gene controls the amount of non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which includes deep sleep. A second gene controls the amount of or need for REM sleep, associated with vivid dreaming. The findings provide a critical molecular entry point to explain how sleep works and to identify potential targets to better treat sleep disorders. “This research is just the beginning. We believe that these two genes are the first of many that regulate sleep,” said study co-author Dr. Joseph S. Takahashi (photo), Chairman of Neuroscience with the O’Donnell Brain Institute at the UT Southwestern Medical Center and Investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Previous research has identified genes that regulate the switch between wakefulness and sleep. But until this latest study, published online on November 2, 2016 in Nature, scientists have not known what mechanisms control the drive or need for non-REM sleep, nor the amount of REM sleep. To find out, researchers used a forward-genetics approach in which they screened for sleep disorders in 8,000 mice using electroencephalogy (EEG) to monitor brain waves.
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