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Gene Distinguishes Early Birds from Night Owls and Helps Predict Time of Death
Date:11/16/2012

ho have the A-A genotype wake up about an hour earlier than the people who have the G-G genotype, and the A-Gs wake up almost exactly in the middle," explains Saper, who is also the James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. Also, expression of the Period 1 gene was lower in the brains and white blood cells of people with the G-G genotype than in people with the A-A genotype, but only in the daytime, which is when the gene is normally expressed.

This discovery marks the biggest contribution of a single genotype in a large population to determine the time of day when people wake up or go to sleep. But could the variant also affect other aspects of the body's circadian rhythm?

"Virtually all physiological processes have a circadian rhythm, meaning that they occur predominantly at certain parts of the day. There's even a circadian rhythm of death, so that in the general population people tend on average to be most likely to die in the morning hours. Sometime around 11 am is the average time," says Saper.

When the investigators went back and looked at the people in the study (many of whom had enrolled more than 15 years ago at age 65) who had died, they found that this same genotype predicted six hours of the variation in the time of death: those with the AA or AG genotype died just before 11 a.m., like most of the population, but those with the GG genotype on average died at just before 6 p.m.

"So there is really a gene that predicts the time of day that you'll die. Not the date, fortunately, but the time of day," says Saper.

Lim says that additional work is needed to determine the mechanisms by which this and other gene variants influence the body's biological clock. In addition to helping people optimize their schedules, the research could eventually lead to novel therapies to treat disturbances of this clock as seen in jet lag or shift work.

"Also, working out which
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Contact: Bonnie Prescott
bprescot@bidmc.harvard.edu
617-667-7306
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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