Biologists from New York University have uncovered new ways our biological clock's neurons use electrical activity to help keep behavioral rhythms in order. The findings, which appear in the journal Current Biology, also point to fresh directions for exploring sleep disorders and related afflictions.
"This process helps explain how our biological clocks keep such amazingly good time," said Justin Blau, an associate professor of biology at NYU and one of the study's authors.
Blau added that the findings may offer new pathways for exploring treatments to sleep disorders because the research highlights the parts of our biological clock that "may be particularly responsive to treatment or changes at different times of the day."
The study's other co-authors were: Dogukan Mizrak and Marc Ruben, doctoral students in NYU's Department of Biology; Gabrielle Myers, an undergraduate in the Biology Department; Kahn Rhrissorrakrai, a post-doctoral researcher; and Kristin Gunsalus, an associate professor at NYU's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology and NYU Abu Dhabi.
In a previous study, Blau and his colleagues found that rhythms in expression of a potassium channel (Ir) helps link the biological clock to the activity of pacemaker neurons. But Ir does not function as a simple output of the clock-it also feeds back to regulate the core clock. In the Current Biology research, the scientists sought to understand the nature of this feedback.
In exploring this mechanism, the researchers examined the biological, or circadian, clocks of Drosophila fruit flies, which are commonly used for research in this area. Earlier studies of "clock genes" in fruit flies allowed the identification of similarly functioning genes in humans.