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Sleep switch found in fruit flies
Date:6/23/2011

Rather than count sheep, drink warm milk or listen to soothing music, many insomniacs probably wish for a switch they could flick to put themselves to sleep.

Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered such a switch in the brains of fruit flies. In a study appearing June 24 in Science, the researchers show that a group of approximately 20 cells in the brains of fruit flies controls when and how long the flies sleep. Slumber induced through this sleep switch was essential to the creation of long-term memory, directly proving a connection between memory and sleep that scientists have long suspected.

"This is exciting because this induced sleep state so far appears to be very similar to spontaneous sleep," says Paul Shaw, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology. "That means we can manipulate these cells to explore a whole new realm of questions about the purposes of sleep. Such studies might one day lead us to more natural ways of inducing sleep in humans."

The key cells are found in an area of the fly brain known as the dorsal fan-shaped body. Scientists in Shaw's lab genetically modified the cells to increase their activity. One effect of making these cells more active was that adult flies slept for an additional seven hours a day.

When scientists added a gene that increases the cells' activity only at warmer temperatures, they could determine when and how long flies would sleep by simply adjusting the temperature in the flies' habitats.

To analyze the similarity of induced sleep to spontaneous sleep, scientists tested whether induced slumber was essential to the formation of long-term memories. In a process called courtship conditioning, male flies were exposed to other males genetically modified to make female sex pheromones.

"The subject fly will initiate courtship because of the female pheromones, but the modified male making those pheromones inevitably reje
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Contact: Michael C. Purdy
purdym@wustl.edu
314-286-0122
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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