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’Sleep Gene’ Identified - Mechanism Reveals Why We Need Sleep

’Sleep Gene’ Identified - Mechanism Reveals Why We Need Sleep

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  • Sleep plays an important role in maintaining good health.
  • Scientists uncover a new ‘sleep gene’ that is involved in the quality of sleep experienced by mice, fruit flies and humans.
  • The study findings revealed the mechanism of how sleep works and why animals may require it so badly.

A particular gene involved in the quality of sleep which is experienced by three different animals including humans was identified by a research team from the Washington State University.

The study on the 'sleep gene' unveils new paths to know about the mechanisms of how sleep works and why animals require it so badly.


Jason Gerstner, assistant research professor in WSU's Elson S.Floyd College of Medicine, lead author in the open-access journal Science Advances, said, "Sleep must be serving some important function."

"But as scientists we still don't understand what that is. One way to get closer to that is by understanding how it is regulated or what processes exist that are shared across species."

Gerstner investigated the genes which change the expression over the sleep-wake cycle and found that FABP7 gene changed over the day throughout the brain mice.

The research team found that mice with a knocked out FABP7 gene were found to sleep more when compared to the normal mice with an intact FABP7 gene. This proved that the gene is essential for normal sleep in animals.

Is FABP7 gene required for Sleep in Humans?
The research looked at the data which was collected from nearly 300 Japanese men who underwent a seven-day sleep study. This included an analysis of the DNA to see if the FABP7 gene is required for normal sleep.

The study found that 29 of them had a gene variation that is responsible for the production of FABP7 gene. These people tend to sleep more fitfully like that of the mice with knocked out FABP7 gene. But, however, had more waking events when they should be sleeping.

Monitoring the Transgenic Fruit Flies' Sleep
Scientists inserted normal and mutated human FABP7 gene into the star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes inside the transgenic fruit flies. The fruit flies are found to live on the planet for more than 60 years.

The glial cells were long thought to be supporting characters to neurons, the processors of information in the brain. The research team found that neurons, glial cells released chemical neurotransmitters and control behavior.

The research team also used a commercial "Drosophila Activity Monitor" which can regulate the activity changes using an infrared beam which can determine if the fly is awake or asleep.

The beam is unbroken for five or more minutes, and the machine may conclude if the fly is asleep.

The scientists were able to find out that if the mutated FABP7 gene may break the beam more frequently during the normal sleep time.

The research team concluded that like mice, humans without a proper functioning FABP7 gene, mutant flies also slept more fitfully.

Gerstner said, "This suggests that there's some underlying mechanism in astrocytes throughout all these species that regulates consolidated sleep."

He added, "It's the first time we've really gained insight into a particular cell's and molecular pathway's role in complex behavior across such diverse species."

Gerstner said, "That suggests we have found an ancient mechanism that persisted over evolutionary time."

"Evolution does not keep something around that long if it is not important."

They were also excited about finding a gene which plays a strong influence on sleep. This may stress out other genes certainly involved in the process.

FABP7 Genes
Fatty acid-binding protein 7 (FABP7) gene is also called 'lipid signaling'. The gene may shuttle fats to the cell nucleus to activate the genes controlling the growth and metabolism.

The research team will now shuttle fats to a cell nucleus which may activate the genes controlling growth and metabolism. The research team further investigates why sleep matters. The sleep is more important for neuronal activity, energy, sleep and storage and memory learning.

  1. Jason R. Gerstner et.al. 'Normal sleep requires the astrocyte brain-type fatty acid binding protein FABP7,' Science Advances (2017); DOI: 10.1126/SCIADV.1602663

Source: Medindia

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