FitzGerald uses mice lacking Bmal1 to study whether clock cells have links to diabetes and heart disease. He has shown that clock genes influence blood pressure, blood sugar and lipid levels.
Several years ago, Musiek, who at the time was a neurology resident at the University of Pennsylvania, and FitzGeralddecided to investigate how knocking out Bmal1 affects the brain. Holtzman, who has published pioneering work on sleep and Alzheimer's disease, encouraged Musiek to continue and expand these studies when he came to Washington University as a postdoctoral fellow.
In the new study, Musiek found that as the mice aged, many of their brain cells became damaged and did not function normally. The patterns of damage were similar to those seen in Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
"Brain cell injury in these mice far exceeded that normally seen in aging mice," Musiek said. "Many of the injuries appear to be caused by free radicals, which are byproducts of metabolism. If free radicals come into contact with brain cells or other tissue, they can cause damaging chemical reactions."
This led Musiek to examine the production of key antioxidant enzymes, which usually neutralize and help clear free radicals from the brain, thereby limiting damage. He found levels of several antioxidant proteins peak in the middle of the day in healthy mice. However, this surge is absent in mice lacking Bmal1. Without the surge, free radicals may remain in the brain longer, contributing to the damage Musiek observed.
"We're trying to identify more specifics about how problems in clock genes contribute to neurodegeneration, both with and without influencing sleep," Musiek said. "That's a challenging distinction to make, but it needs to be made because clock genes appear to control
|Contact: Michael C. Purdy|
Washington University School of Medicine