Several rhythms make the 24hr clock, study shows

Posted by er134 at Sep 11, 2014 01:15 PM |
University of Leicester discovery could change treatment of sleeping disorders

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 11 September 2014

-      New research shows that daily rhythms are more complex than initially thought

-      Internal clock may be made of several components with different speeds

-      The discovery could aid sleep disorder research

Researchers have shown for the first time that brain cells don’t all follow the same 24-hour cycle, but can vary in their routines, a discovery which could change the way we treat sleep disorders.

It is well known that there is a clock in the brain that like a musical conductor orchestrates all body functions to cycle with a 24-hour rhythm.  But new research from the laboratories of Dr Ezio Rosato and Professor Bambos Kyriacou at the University of Leicester has shown that, at least in flies, brain cells called neurons tend to cycle with different periods, and only when they synchronise together do they produce the 24 h rhythms we know.

Dr Rosato and colleagues exploited genetics tricks to ‘over-excite’ or ‘repress’ neurons in the brain of Drosophila fruit flies, a model organism used in genetics research. The researchers observed that some cells have a tendency to follow a longer than 24 hour rhythm, whereas others work on a slower cycle.

Dr Ezio Rosato, senior author of the paper explains: “Although the day is always 24 hour the light cycle changes with seasons, and our biological functions adapt to it. A multiple speed clock allows us to go faster and then slow down to accommodate those changes, but staying within the 24 hour limit of a day. For instance, in summer we prefer to get up earlier and to go to bed later than in winter. That requires speeding up and then slowing down the same function during the day.”

The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is published in Current Biology.

Dr Rosato added: “It is likely that future studies will reveal a similar organisation for the body clock of humans. Our clock can be desynchronised by many influences, such as shift work, transcontinental travel, ageing, or disease. This knowledge could help alleviating the symptoms of a broken clock because we could treat the neurons ‑ for which many drugs exist ‑ rather than specifically treating the clock, resulting in improved quality of life.”

Professor Melanie Welham, Director of Science at BBSRC said “There is very clear evidence that disruption of our body clocks has real and negative consequences for our health. This new insight into the way fruit flies’ body clocks work gives us a potential new avenue for finding approaches to treating sleep disorders, for example.”

The next step is to see how these cells connect and chemically talk to each other and to understand how they work together as a network to generate the properties of the clock.



Chris Melvin

Kate Ford

Notes to Editors


Authors: Stephane Dissel‡1,2, Celia N. Hansen‡1, Özge Özkaya1, Matthew Hemsley1, Charalambos P Kyriacou1, Ezio Rosato1*

1Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK

2Current Address: Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University in St Louis, 660 South Euclid Avenue, St Louis, MO 63110, USA

‡Equal contribution

*Corresponding author:

About The University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is a leading UK University committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. Leicester is consistently one of the most socially inclusive of the UK’s top 20 universities with a long-standing commitment to providing fairer and equal access to higher education. The University of Leicester is The Times/Sunday Times 2014 University of the Year Runner-Up and the THE University of the Year 2008-9.  Leicester is a three-time winner of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education  and is the only University to win seven consecutive awards from the Times Higher. Leicester is ranked 14th out of 121 institutions by The Times/Sunday Times and the University is ranked among the top two-per cent in the world by the QS World University Rankings,  Taiwan World University Rankings and THE World University Rankings.


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