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First biomarker for human sleepiness identified in fruit flies

Scientists have identified the first biochemical marker linked to sleep loss, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase, which increases in activity when sleep deprivation is prolonged.

Researchers hope to make amylase the first of a panel of biomarkers that will aid diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders and may one day help assess the risk of falling asleep at the wheel of a car or in other dangerous contexts.

"As we prepare for the holiday season and long drives to distant relative's houses, I hope this finding will get people thinking about the dangers and costs of sleep deprivation," says lead author Paul J. Shaw, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology. "If you're feeling sleepy on your way over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house, it's much better to pull over and find a place where you can sleep for a while than to continue on and risk a serious accident."

The study appears this week in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Shaw's lab was the first to show that fruit flies enter a state of inactivity comparable to sleep. They demonstrated that the flies have periods of inactivity where greater stimulation is required to rouse them. Like humans, flies deprived of sleep one day will try to make up for the lost time by sleeping more the next day, a phenomenon referred to as increased sleep drive or sleep debt.

To identify a marker for sleep debt, Shaw decided to look in saliva. Easily accessible, saliva contains many of the substances found in blood and urine, making it an increasingly popular target for diagnostics. Saliva was also an attractive target for Shaw's lab because the brain areas that regulate sleep drive are known to send signals to the brain areas that regulate salivation.

To start his search, Shaw subjected the flies to different kinds of sleep deprivation and used microarrays to look for changes in activity in many different genes. Amylase levels consistent
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Contact: Michael C. Purdy
purdym@wustl.edu
314-286-0122
Washington University School of Medicine
11-Dec-2006


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