A report published recently about research conducted on flies may have a significant role in learning more about human sleep.
In research published online in Current Biology, researchers report that two genes, originally known for their regulation of cell division, are required for normal slumber in flies. Researchers say the genes, taranis and Cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (Cdk1), have similarities to genes found in mammals, including humans.
The researchers examined the genes of thousands of mutant fly lines and found that those flies with a mutation of the taranis gene slept a lot less than normal flies. Using a series of genetic and biochemical experiments, the researchers tracked how Taranis interacted with other proteins and saw that Taranis bound to a known sleep regulator protein called Cyclin A. Their data suggest that Taranis and Cyclin A create a molecular machine that inactivates Cdk1, whose normal function is to suppress sleep and promote wakefulness.
While most humans need seven to eight hours of sleep, some people get by and are perfectly healthy sleeping six hours or less each night. These individuals are generally referred to as “short sleepers”. True short sleepers represent a very small fraction of the population. Indeed, many people who claim to be short sleepers are simply sleep deprived.
Although the Taranis protein has a human cousin, called the Trip-Br family of transcriptional regulators, it is yet unclear whether a similar system is at play in humans. The research team’s next step is to investigate the cues that turn Taranis on and which proteins the Cdk1 kinase acts on to prevent sleep.