Washington State University (WSU) researchers, and colleagues, have examined how a particular gene (FABP7) is involved in the quality of sleep experienced by three different animal species--humans, mice, and fruit flies. The gene, and knowledge of its function, open a new avenue for scientists exploring how sleep works and why animals seem to need it so badly. "Sleep must be serving some important function," said Jason Gerstner, Ph.D., Assistant Research Professor in WSU's Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and lead author of an article published in the April 5, 2017 issue of the open-access journal Science Advances. The article is titled “Normal Sleep Requires the Astrocyte Brain-Type Fatty Acid Binding Protein FABP7." “But as scientists we still don't understand what that [function] is. One way to get closer to that is by understanding how it is regulated or what processes exist that are shared across species." As a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Gerstner investigated genes whose expression changes over the sleep-wake cycle and he found that expression of the gene FABP7 changed over the course of the day throughout the brain of mice. Dr. Gerstner and his colleagues observed that mice with a knocked-out FABP7 gene slept more fitfully compared to normal mice with the gene intact. This suggested the functioning gene is required for normal sleep in mammals. To determine if FABP7 is indeed required for normal sleep in humans, Dr. Gerstner and colleagues in Japan examined data from nearly 300 Japanese men who underwent a seven-day sleep study that included an analysis of their DNA. It turned out that 29 of these men had a variant of the FABP7 gene. As the mice had, these men with the variant FABP7 gene tended to sleep more fitfully.
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