May 3, 2012
International travellers, shift workers and even people suffering from obesity-related conditions stand to benefit from a key discovery of two crucial genes that contribute to the body's internal clock.
Senior scientist Chris Liddle, from the Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research, the University of Sydney, worked with a team from the Salk Institute based in California, beating other teams from around the world racing to find the core elements of the biological, or circadian clock. Their findings are published in Nature on May 3.
The Circadian clock is an internal daily body clock that controls alertness, appetite, sleep timing and hormone secretions.
Work can now focus on developing drugs to target the two receptors identified in this study, and provide relief for those affected by disrupted circadian rhythms.
“People with circadian disturbances tend to have a higher incidence of obesity, diabetes and related metabolic disorders,” said Professor Liddle. “It is much more than simply a problem of disturbed sleep”.
“This is a very exciting discovery. These receptors are core elements of the clock that we can potentially use drugs on.”
Professor Liddle, who is a liver expert and has worked on liver genes for more than a decade with researchers at the Salk Institute, said the team had also been able to show the receptors were important in controlling the liver metabolism of fats and other genes related to diet, nutrition, digestion and energy expenditure.
“People tend to think that the clock is just something that happens in the brain, like when you feel wide awake or when you want to sleep or are suffering from jet-lag. But it‟s a whole-body issue. Literally, you do not feel like exercising and your metabolism slows when you are in that part of the cycle. This contributes to obesity-related problems”
“When you fly overseas, not only do you wake up in the middle of the night, you probably notice you want to eat in the middle of the night, and that during the day you have reduced energy. The liver is a key player in the regulation of energy and we now understand quite a bit more how liver genes „clock in‟ to the circadian cycle”. Support life saving medical research today and make a donation (through our fundraising body, Westmead Medical Research Foundation) at wmrf.org.au.