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Two genetic suspects are identified in the mystery of why we need to sleep

SAN DIEGO -- Like sleuths in an endlessly complex Agatha Christie novel, scientists at The Neurosciences Institute have been trying to solve the mystery of why we need to sleep. Now, following a two-year investigation, they have identified two genetic suspects that suggest one day it may be possible to prevent the consequences of sleep deprivation.

The work presented in this weeks Nature, a scientific journal, built upon their previous work showing that sleep in the fruit fly is eerily similar to mammalian sleep, right down to the level of which genes are activated. Now they have shown that, like mammals, flies will die if they dont sleep.

"The significance of the study is that sleep is an important part of life and that without it you die," said lead project scientist Paul Shaw. "It is so important that it has survived throughout evolution even though it is a costly behavior. While animals sleep, they can't take care of their young, forage for food or engage in any number of other vital biological activities."

In addition to finding that sleep is vitally important in the fly, the investigators identified two genes that play such an important role in sleep function that flies will die after only a few hours of sleep deprivations when these genes are eliminated or reduced. Although the genes were identified in the fruit fly, both genes have counterparts in human. One of the genes has previously been shown to play an important role controlling our internal clock. Among other things, the clock sends out signals that tell us when it is time to wake up and when it is time to go to sleep.

"For many years, most scientists have believed that the sleep and clock mechanisms were independent, although it was widely recognized that they could influence one another, Shaw said. "Our data suggest a much more intimate relationship."

The other gene that they identified has been shown to play an important role in protecting the body ag
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Contact: Paul Shaw
pshaw@nsi.edu
858-626-2117
The Neurosciences Institute
15-May-2002


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