SEP 03, 2018 06:17 PM PDT

Two Genes Found to be Essential to REM Sleep

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Sleep is an essential process for animals and is a programmed part of life. We do know a bit about the physiology of sleep; in mammals, there are two major types: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Our brains are about as active during REM sleep as they are while we’re awake, and we know that a molecule called acetylcholine is present at about the same levels during both wakefulness and REM sleep. But many other molecular characteristics underlying the process remain unknown. New work published in Cell Reports has shed some light on this area, however.

Acetylcholine has been shown to be abundantly available during REM sleep, scientists led by Hiroki Ueda at RIKEN BDR and The University of Tokyo began their investigation with genes that encode for receptors that bind to that molecule. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter, which sends signals between neurons. The researchers used CRISPR technology and generated transgenic mice to learn that Chrm1 and Chrm3 are an essential part of how sleep is controlled by the body. The genes encode for receptors that are found in the human cerebral cortex. 

In mice without the Chrm1 gene, REM sleep was reduced and fragmented. When mice lacked Chrm3, the length of non-REM sleep was reduced. While mice lacking both Chrm1 and Chrm3 were able to survive, they got very little REM sleep.

“The surprising finding that mice are viable despite the almost complete loss of REM sleep will allow us to rigorously verify whether REM sleep plays a crucial role in fundamental biological functions such as learning and memory” noted the co-first author of the report, Yasutaka Niwa.

Based on this work, it seems that these receptors are essential to REM sleep and regulation but in different ways. It will remain to be seen if this work applies exactly to humans.

“The discovery that Chrm1 and Chrm3 play a key role in REM sleep opens the way to studying its underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms and will eventually allow us to define the state of REM sleep, which has been paradoxical and mysterious since its original report,” Ueda added.


Sources: RIKEN, Harvard, The Human Protein Atlas, Cell Reports

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 06, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 06, 2018
Genetic Mutation Linked to Increased Pancreatic Cancer Risk in Women
In a first, researchers have found a genetic mutation that has a sex-specific effect on pancreatic cancer risk....
OCT 08, 2018
Videos
OCT 08, 2018
Harvesting Ancient DNA Samples
The story of an ancient insect that found itself trapped in amber is not a new one, but does it work?...
OCT 18, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 18, 2018
Expanding the List of Genes That Cause Multiple Sclerosis
For many years, researchers have been searching for the genetic influences that affect the development of MS....
NOV 20, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 20, 2018
A Warning About Using Epigenetic Modifiers as Therapeutic Targets
In the long run, some cancer therapeutics may be doing more harm than good....
NOV 23, 2018
Microbiology
NOV 23, 2018
Researchers Surprised to Find Giant Viruses in Forest Soil
Viruses were thought of as tiny infectious agents for the most part, until researchers began to discover more and more giant viruses....
DEC 11, 2018
Cancer
DEC 11, 2018
FDA approves two new drugs for cancers with specific genetic mutations
Last month the FDA approved two new drugs for cancer, both drugs target cancers with specific genetic mutations which made geneticists and oncologists optimistic on the future of cancer thera...
Loading Comments...