Scientists find cells that set circadian rhythms
Scientists are another step closer to understanding what controls our body’s 24-hour sleep and wake cycle that is responsible for key functions, such as hormone production, blood pressure, and metabolism function. Researchers at the University of Texas say they have identified the primary cells associated with circadian rhythms.
The study, published in the journal Neuron, revealed that our circadian rhythms are controlled by cells within the supcrachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) or “master clock” located in the hypothalamus area of the brain.
While the SCN was identified 40 years ago, this study is the first to locate the specific group of cells responsible for our body's timekeeping behaviors. The scientists examined mice and found that a protein used to transmit messages in the brain directly affects the timing mechanisms of the SCN, affecting biological clock functions through the rest of the body.
These findings are the latest in a long line of research dating back to the 1970s, when scientists identified the region that controls circadian rhythms. Researchers believe that understanding circadian rhythms could lead to new medical treatment for a variety of conditions including sleep disorders, neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, metabolism disorders, and psychiatric disorders, such as depression.