19 May 2011

Not getting enough sleep? Take an embryonic protein!

The activity of an adult tired brain is stimulated by a protein on which the development of the embryo dependsKirill Stasevich, Compulenta
NOTCH protein, which plays a leading role in embryonic development, eliminates the symptoms of sleep deprivation in the adult brain, helping to maintain attention and learning ability.

A group of neuroscientists from the Medical Faculty of the University of Washington (USA) was looking for a way to increase the efficiency of the brain during forced insomnia. The experiments led to an unexpected result: it turned out that the activity of the tired brain is stimulated by a protein, on which the development of the embryo largely depends.

The NOTCH protein is involved in the control of cell differentiation during embryonic development. But at the same time, it was noticed that drosophila, which experienced a lack of sleep, for some reason increased the activity of genes that suppressed the synthesis of the NOTCH protein. The same suppressor genes were initiated in people with forced insomnia.

Then Paul Shaw decided with his team to check how the change in the content of this protein would affect the mental abilities of fruit flies. In the experiment, fruit flies were asked to choose where to fly: in a light tube or a dark one. Flies instinctively prefer a light environment more, but in the experiment a positive stimulus was combined with a negative one, since the light tube smelled of quinine, which flies avoid. As a result, the insects were trained to fly through a dark tube. At the same time, by the end of the usual waking period, flies, like humans, became more "inattentive" and learned worse that it was impossible to fly into the light in this case. Further insomnia only sharply worsened the "intelligence" of the flies.

But the fruit flies, whose NOTCH protein suppressor genes were turned off in their brains, continued to show good learning ability, as if they had had a good night's sleep - although they were not allowed to sleep at all.

It turned out that the NOTCH protein in adult flies is synthesized in the brain, and not even in the neurons that do all the work, but in glial cells that play a passive role, providing neurons with nutrition and support. Now, obviously, we will have to consider neuroglia cells as full participants in the regulation of sleep and in general the processes of higher nervous activity.

Neurons (green) surrounded by glial cells (red).
Photo by C.J.Guerin, PhD, MRC Toxiology Unit.

The work of the researchers (Seugnet et al., Notch Signaling Modulates Sleep Homeostasis and Learning after Sleep Deprivation in Drosophila) is published in the journal Current Biology.

The discovery should be of great practical importance, because by encouraging cells to synthesize NOTCH, it is possible to increase the efficiency of those who, for example, are associated with round-the-clock duty. And these are the military, emergency workers, air traffic controllers, and ambulance doctors.

Prepared based on the materials of the University of Washington: Protein keeps sleep-deprived flies ready to learn.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru19.05.2011

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