Researchers from the University of Manchester have found a new mechanism that dictates how body clocks react to environmental changes. Findings could lead the way to pharmaceutical solutions to the negative effects of jet lag and chronic shift work.
The study showed the enzyme casein kinase 1epsilon (CK1epsilon) regulates how the body's clockwork is adjusted or reset by environmental factors such as light and temperature. Internal biological timers, or circadian clocks, are found in nearly every species, including humans. These clocks are found in most of the body's cells and tissues, and oversee daily physiological activity, including metabolism and sleep/wake patterns.
"At the heart of these clocks are a complex set of molecules whose interaction provides robust and precise 24-hour timing, said Dr. David Bechtold, the University of Manchester's research team leader. "Importantly, our clocks are kept in synchrony with the environment by being responsive to light and dark information."
The research team found a new mechanism that controls how internal clocks respond to light inputs. Experiments with mice lacking clock component CK1epsilon were capable of shifting to a new light-dark environment "much faster than normal." Drugs that inhibit CK1epsilon quickened shift responses in normal mice, and this sudden change to a new environment "minimized metabolic disturbances caused by the time shift."
"We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and wellbeing -- things that are viewed as commonplace, such as shift-work, sleep deprivation, and jet lag disrupt our body's clocks," noted Dr. Bechtold. "It is now becoming clear that clock disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of diseases including obesity and diabetes.
"We are not genetically pre-disposed to quickly adapt to shift-work or long-haul flights, and as so our bodies' clocks are built to resist such rapid changes.
Unfortunately, we must deal with these issues today, and there is very clear evidence that disruption of our body clocks has real and negative consequences for our health.
Further research in the area could lead to a better understanding of how poor body clock adjustments contribute to inflammation and diseases like diabetes, as well as potential pharmaceutical treatments, according to The Daily Mail, which reported that a pill based on the researchers' finding is in pre-clinical development at Pfizer. Bechtold told the publication that drugs aimed at body clock adjustments could start to appear within five to ten years' time.
The study was published in the journal Current Biology. Other recent studies have linked body clocks to the prevention of adverse health effects such as osteoporosis and lung cancer.