We have identified genes that control the circadian rhythms of Drosophila. Interactions among these genes and their proteins set up a network of oscillations within single cells. These oscillations are autonomously generated, are found in most tissues, and establish rhythms in physiology and behavior. This mechanism is conserved within the animal kingdom: similar “clock” genes regulate patterns of sleep and other rhythms in humans. A common form of human insomnia called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) is characterized by a persistent and intractable delay in the timing of the major sleep episode. A study of several DSPD subjects allowed us to recognize a specific clock gene variant that affects behavioral, physiological and molecular circadian rhythms of carriers under controlled laboratory conditions. Our results are consistent with the candidate allele encoding a dominant, hyperactive transcription factor that alters sleep and circadian rhythms by lengthening the period of the circadian clock.
The Young lab studies 24-hour circadian clocks, which time the recurring, daily activities observed in most organisms. These cellular clocks are active in most animal tissues and establish daily rhythms in physiology and behavior. The lab’s findings have implications for sleep and mood disorders as well as for dysfunctions related to the timing of gene activities underlying visual functions, locomotion, metabolism, immunity, learning, and memory.
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