Monday, 2 April 2012

Gene responsible for how long you sleep!

Ever wondered why some people can sleep for just a few hours and still feel rested, whereas others need a full night in bed in order to function normally?

Well, it has been found that a gene is partly responsible for determining the amount of time a person sleeps for. This was discovered following a study undertaken in November 2011 by researchers at LMU Munich, who determined that the gene can partly control the duration of sleep not only in humans, but possibly a wide range of species as well.

The study involved more than 4000 participants from 7 different European countries, and involved a survey to assess people’s sleeping habits, and then relating this to the different variations of the ABCC9 gene. It was found that participants with one variation of the gene usually slept for a shorter amount of time than the participants with another variation. There are many other factors that contribute to how long you sleep for, including season, age, gender, and chronotype (whether you’re early to bed, early to rise, or vice versa). The LMU study showed that the ABCC9 gene is responsible for around 5% of the variations in sleep duration in different people.

The ABCC9 gene codes for the protein SUR2. This protein has many roles, one of which is to perform a regulatory function in potassium channels on the cell membrane. The potassium channel is ATP-sensitive, so it senses energy metabolism within the cell. This metabolic role is also the reason for the gene’s associations with metabolic syndrome (diabetes), heart disease and some psychiatric disorders.
Location of the ABCC9 gene on chromosome 12.

A drosophila fly.
A similar gene is also present in Drosophila, a small fruit fly. In this same 2011 study at LMU, scientists blocked the gene in a group of Drosophila and found that their nocturnal sleep patterns were shortened by up to 3 hours. This shows that there is a definite correlation between the gene and sleep duration. The fact that the gene has the same effect in both humans and Drosophila shows that it is an evolutionarily ancient gene, as it is most likely present in an ancient common ancestor. Therefore it could be a contributing factor in sleep for a wide range of animal species.

The discovery of the correlation between the ABCC9 gene and sleep durations is a step forward in understanding the complicated workings of genes and how they control all inner workings of the organism. It will help scientists as well as individuals understand sleep and why it affects people differently. The interesting similarity between the control of sleep times in humans and in Drosophila provides an insight into evolution and perhaps how all animals regulate their sleep patterns, which could be further looked into in future studies.

To read the online news article, click here:

To see the original research journal article, click here:

For more information about the functioning of potassium channels, here is a video:

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