Insomnia sufferers could rest easy if scientists really have found a way to control a body’s internal clock, and they are not the only ones who stand to benefit from a potential new treatment. People with anxiety also often suffer from a dysfunction in their bodies’ internal clocks. Researchers say that they have found a way to target a protein that regulates our internal clocks. They further believe that, armed with some new research, they may have opened the door to at least one new treatment for multiple disorders.
Disruption to the circadian rhythm is often responsible for sleep disorders like insomnia. The circadian rhythm is also known as an internal clock, according to Medical News Today. More specifically, “circadian rhythms are ∼24-h oscillations in behavior and physiology, which are internally generated and function to anticipate the environmental changes associated with the solar day,” according to an article in Human Molecular Genetics.
A research team, that included Dr. Thomas Burris, chair of pharmacological and physiological science at St. Louis University, had their findings about a treatment for improperly regulated internal clocks published in the journal Nature Communications last week.
The protein that Dr. Burris says is involved in regulating this internal clock is called REV-ERB. The researchers tested a synthetic molecule they believed would activate this protein. This molecule, known as SR9011, increased wakefulness in mice and also reduced anxiety as well as reward-seeking behavior in the tiny mammals. Dr. Burris noted that, generally, drugs used to increase wakefulness also increase anxiety, but this wasn’t the case in the molecule they used to target REV-ERB. The team noted that “the pharmacological proﬁle of REV-ERB agonists and their ability to target the clock appear to be distinct from these pathways,” and that it may prove to be effective in treating anxiety and sleep disorders like insomnia.
“REV-ERB agonists induce wakefulness and reduce REM and slow-wave sleep. Interestingly, REV-ERB agonists also reduce anxiety-like behaviour. These data are consistent with increased anxiety-like behaviour of REV-ERBβ-null mice, in which REV-ERB agonists have no effect.”
Because it also tamed reward-seeking behaviors, it could potentially also treat addiction the researchers say in their press release.
“Drug addiction clearly has a circadian component, and mice with mutations in clock genes – such as Per1, Per2, Clock and Npas2 – have altered responsiveness to the reward associated with cocaine, morphine and/or alcohol. Thus, it is quite reasonable to expect that a small-molecule regulator of the clock would modulate reward-seeking behavior.”
The team did note that just because the molecule worked in mice doesn’t guarantee that insomnia sufferers will sleep soundly in the very near future, because the treatment will still need to be studied in humans before it would become available to the public.
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