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Insomniac Fish May Help Sleepless People

Finned finding points to genes preventing slumber, scientists say

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) -- They may not toss and turn, but even fish can get insomnia, according to new research that could help sleepless humans.

A team at Stanford University School of Medicine in California found that zebrafish -- a common aquarium pet -- can carry a genetic mutation linked to sleep problems. The finding may help scientists in their efforts to learn more about the genetics of sleep disorders.

Fish with the mutation have brain cells that lack receptors for a neuropeptide called hypocretin. These fish got 30 percent less overall sleep than normal zebrafish. When the mutant fish did fall asleep, they slept only half as long as their normal counterparts.

This study was published in the Oct. 16 issue of the journal Public Library of Science - Biology.

The researchers' next step is to look for mutations in zebrafish that cause oversleep or complete lack of sleep, with the ultimate goal of discovering new sleep-related regulatory molecules and brain networks passed on through evolution to humans.

"Many people ask the questions, 'Why are we sleeping?' and, 'What is the function of sleep?' I think it is more important to figure out first how the brain produces and regulates sleep," study author Dr. Emmanuel Mignot said in a prepared statement. "This will give us important clues on how and maybe why sleep has been selected by natural evolution and is so universal."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about insomnia.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, Oct. 15, 2007

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