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Switch for Internal Body Clock Found

Discovery could lead to new treatments for sleep disorders

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The chemical switch that activates the genetic mechanism regulating the body's internal clock has been identified by University of California, Irvine, researchers.

They added that the switch offers a target for the development of new drugs to treat sleep disorders and related problems.

The study found that a single amino acid triggers the genes that regulate circadian rhythms. Because of the complex genes involved, the researchers said they were surprised to find that a single amino acid switched on the body clock mechanism.

A modification in a single amino acid in the BMAL1 protein activates the genetic processes involved with circadian rhythms, the researchers found. If this amino acid modification goes awry, the genetic switching mechanism can malfunction, resulting in circadian rhythm-related disorders.

"Because the triggering action is so specific, it appears to be a perfect target for compounds that could regulate this activity. It is always amazing to see how molecular control is so precise in biology," study author Paolo Sassone-Corsi, Distinguished Professor and Chair of Pharmacology, said in a prepared statement.

Sassone-Corsi is currently testing antibodies that can target the activity of this amino acid in the BMAL1 protein.

The study is published in the Dec. 13 issue of Nature.

More information

The Medical College of Wisconsin has more about circadian rhythms.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, Irvine, news release, Dec. 12, 2007

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