Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Amount of Sleep Linked to Premature Aging

If you are like me and are lucky to sleep 4 hours a night, you might want to take action to correct this potentially serious situation. A new study published in the journal of Aging by scientists from Oregon State University found a key gene that helps control circadian rhythms can improve the health of aging fruit flies, if it is unharmed. However, significant health impacts, including early death could occur if the gene is absent. The "period" gene in fruit flies (also found and expressed in almost every cell in the human body) was examined in this study. This gene is one of four primary genes that help control the biological clock in many animals. The study used normal fruit flies compared to mutant flies where the "period" gene was absent. In their experiments, researchers caused a mild metabolic stress to the flies at various times, that corresponded to youth, middle age and old age. They found no significant change in the young flies; however in middle-age and older flies, significant damage occurred. The mutant flies lost some of their motor skills and their brains showed higher levels of neuronal degeneration, similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans. When exposed to a single stressful event, the middle age mutant flies had a 12% shorter lifespan compared to normal flies exposed to the same stress; and when exposed to a single stress in old age, mutant flies had a 20% shorter lifespan.
The scientists theorized that the "period" gene is regulating pathways involved in removal of oxidative damage. Those flies without this gene experienced the symptoms of aging more quickly. These findings could have impacts on neurological damage, heart disease and even cancer research. The work was done under the leadership of Jadwiga Giebultowicz, an OSU professor of zoology, in collaboration with Dr. Doris Kretzschmar from the Oregon Health and Sciences University. For more information, please visit

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