La Jolla ---- Scientists have discovered a missing link between the body's biological clock and sugar metabolism system, a finding that may help avoid the serious side effects of drugs used for treating asthma, allergies and arthritis.
In a paper published last week in Nature, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report finding that proteins that control the body's biological rhythms, known as cryptochromes, also interact with metabolic switches that are targeted by certain anti-inflammatory drugs.
The finding suggests that side effects of current drugs might be avoided by considering patients' biological rhythms when administering drugs, or by developing new drugs that target the cryptochromes.
"We knew that our sleep and wake cycle are tied to when our bodies process nutrients, but how this happened at the genetic and molecular level was a complete mystery," says Ronald M. Evans, a professor in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory, who led the research team. "Now we've found the link between these two important systems, which could serve as a model for how other cellular processes are linked and could hold promise for better therapies."
Glucocorticoids are steroid hormones that occur naturally in the body and help control the amount of sugar in a person's blood, so that nutrient levels rise in the morning to fuel daily activities and fall again at night. They function in cells by interacting with glucocorticoid receptors, molecular switches on the outside of the nucleus, which Evans first discovered in 1985.
Glucocorticoids also play a role in regulating inflammation and are used as anti-inflammatory drugs for diseases caused by an overactive immune system, such as allergies, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. They are also used to treat inflammation in cancer patients.
However, because of their role in sugar metabolism, the steroids can disrupt a person's normal metabolism, resulting in
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