It may be hard to believe, but fruit flies have surprisingly similar sleeping habits to humans. To determine the relationship between sleep patterns and metabolic disease, scientists from the Florida Atlantic University used fruit flies to examine the genetic relationship between sleep and hunger.
Like humans, drugs like caffeine affect fruit flies’ sleep, and losing enough sleep can affect their memory performance. However, fruit flies are also wired to neglect their sleep if they are especially hungry. Although some humans may claim that they would do the same, the present study, published in Current Biology
, shows that there is actually a genetic cause for the fruit flies’ persistent hunt for sustenance despite their exhaustion.
To find the precise gene they suspected was causing the fruit flies to avoid sleep in search of food, the researchers created a series of situations for the fruit flies to demonstrate what effect each potential gene had on their sleeping habits.
Researchers performed a nervous system-specific RNAi screen to identify any and all genes responsible for keeping hungry fruit flies awake. After controlling variables like diet, sleep, glycogen levels, triglyceride levels, and free glucose levels, the scientists found a conserved gene called translin to be important in controlling the neural mechanism that sustained sleep deprivation in response to environmental challenges leading to a lack of normal food intake. The study was recently published in Current Biology.
For humans, acute sleep loss can cause increased appetite and insulin insensitivity, and chronic sleep loss can lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Ironically, the human metabolic state has an equal effect on sleep habits. Little is known about the specific molecular processes that govern the intricacies of this relationship, and the results from this study have scientists thinking the gene translin might be involved, even though the gene does not seem to be required for “general modulation” of sleep.
When the translin gene is knocked out in neurons, the starving fruit flies sleep as soundly as they would if they were, and a similar effect was also observed in fruit flies who had a null mutation in the translin gene.
As scientists from the Florida Atlantic University continue to investigate the role of translin in preventing sleep and possibly leading to heart disease in both humans and fruit flies, they intend to learn great amounts about the interplay between eating, sleeping, and cardiovascular disease.
Source: Florida Atlantic University