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Travel Jet-lag Study Reveals Why Time Changes Are A Struggle


Aug 18, 2010
World citizen!

New research in mice reveals why the body is so slow to recover from jet-lag and identifies a target for the development of drugs that could help us adjust more quickly to changes in time zone.

The researchers at Oxford University and F. Hoffmann La Roche have identified a mechanism that limits the ability of the body clock to adjust to changes in patterns of light and dark.

They show that if you block the activity of this gene in mice, they recover faster from disturbances in their daily light/dark cycle that were designed to simulate jet-lag.

The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust and F. Hoffmann La Roche, and is published in the journal Cell.

Nearly all life on Earth has an internal body clock that keeps us ticking on a 24-hour cycle, synchronising a variety of bodily functions such as sleeping and eating with the cycle of light and dark in a solar day.

When we travel to a different time zone, our body clock eventually adjusts to the local time. However this can take up to one day for every hour the clock is shifted, resulting in several days of fatigue and discombobulation.

In mammals, the body clock – or circadian clock – is controlled by an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) which pulls every cell in the body into the same biological rhythm. The SCN receives information from a specialised system in the eyes which senses the time of day by detecting environmental light, and synchronises the clock to local time.

Until now, little was known about how light affects activity in the SCN to 'tune' the body clock, and why it takes so long to adjust when the light cycle changes.

To investigate this, the Oxford University team led by Dr Stuart Peirson and Professor Russell Foster examined the patterns of gene expression in the SCN of mice following a pulse of light during the hours of darkness.

They identified around 100 genes that were switched on in response to light, revealing a sequence of events that retune the circadian clock.
Among these, they identified one molecule, called SIK1, that acts as a brake to limit the effects of light on the body clock. When they blocked the activity of SIK1, the mice adjusted faster to changes in light cycle.

Dr Peirson, of Oxford's Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, explained: 'We've identified a system that actively prevents the body clock from re-adjusting. 'If you think about it, it makes sense to have a buffering mechanism in place to provide some stability to the clock. The clock needs to be sure that it is getting a reliable signal, and if the signal occurs at the same time over several days it probably has biological relevance. But it is this same buffering mechanism that slows down our ability to adjust to a new time zone and causes jet lag.'

Disruptions in the circadian system have been linked to chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as weakened immunity to infections and impaired cognition. More recently, researchers have found that circadian disturbances are a common feature of several mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

'We're still several years away from a cure for jet-lag, but understanding the mechanisms that generate and regulate our circadian clock gives us targets to develop drugs to help bring our bodies in tune with the solar cycle,' said Professor Foster, director of the recently established Oxford University Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute which is supported by the Wellcome Trust. 'Such drugs could potentially have broader therapeutic value for people with mental health issues.'


May 11, 2010
Ancient Greece
We're still several years away from a cure for jet-lag
Aren't Melatonin derivatives already being used for cure and prevention of jet lag?
Literature suggests such drugs have a very effective profile as well. I don't know if they are actually used in real-life settings.
(ALERT: NEVER use such drugs without physician advice. Patients with epilepsy, anticoagulant use, blood dycrasias must keep special precautions)


Aug 18, 2010
World citizen!
I didn't know about melatonin for jet lag but I know it is used for sleep disorders. Melatonin has to be used carefully as it can cause longterm insomnia and there is a lot of fascinating work around sleep at the moment after the recent discovery of the of the melanopsin cell which regulates the circadian rhythm. That discovery is from the same lab as the starter article. It's opening a lot of possibilities and much better understanding of different disease processes and their effect on sleep. Sleep quality (rather than quantity) is vital as a lot of internal body processes rely on the circadian rhythm regulation mechanisms. Fascinating!!

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