Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found a switch in the brains of fruit flies that controls their sleep, a discovery which could possibly pave the way for treating sleeping disorders in humans.
Slumber induced through this "sleep switch" -- essentially a group of approximately 20 cells found in an area of the fly brain known as the dorsal fan-shaped body -- was critical to the creation of long-term memory, directly proving a long suspected scientific theory of a link between memory and sleep.
"This is exciting because this induced sleep state so far appears to be very similar to spontaneous sleep," said Paul Shaw, associate professor of neurobiology. He continued, "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."
Scientists in Shaw's lab genetically modified these "sleeping cells" to increase their activity, which in one case resulted in adult flies that slept up to 7 hours longer per day.
When scientists added a gene that increases the cells' activity only at warmer temperatures, they could effectively control the flies' sleeping habits by simply adjusting the heat.
In the video below, the flies on the right possess the added gene that causes them to fall asleep when the temperature is raised.
via DailyIndia Video Source