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This Is Why Your Brain Gets Jet Lag
September 1, 2013
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(Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Here's one thing that jet lag remedies have in common: they don't tend to work all that well. No matter what strategies we try to employ after a flight from, say, Toronto to Vancouver, we feel the familiar fatigue as our bodies struggle to adjust to the new time zone. A new discovery, however, could point the way toward a cure for the frequent flyer affliction.

Scientists at Oxford University were attempting to figure out the mechanism that prevents the body's internal clock from resetting when it shifts time zones, reports the BBC. They already knew that certain receptors in the retina quickly change their activity in response to light, and communicate with the region of the brain that pulls together the body's circadian rhythms, the so-called biological clock that keeps you sleepy and night and awake during the day.

But when the researchers examined neural activity in mice, they found that a protein named SIK1 ended up turning off many of the cells that react to light, acting as a "brake" on the body's ability to adapt.

"We've known there's been a brake on the clock for some time, but we had absolutely no idea what it is," Russell Foster, one of the researchers, told the BBC.

The research team then bred a strain of mice in which the function of SIK1 was significantly reduced, and found that they could quickly adapt to a simulated clock change of about six hours, according to the paper they published in the journal Cell.

The next step in the project, which was co-sponsored by the pharmaceutical giant Roche, is to flesh out the corresponding mechanisms in humans, and determine whether they'd be responsive to a drug.

"We're still several years away from a cure for jet lag, but understanding the mechanisms that generate and regulate our circadian clock gives us targets to develop drugs to help bring our bodies in tune with the solar cycle," Foster told Reuters.



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