Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, led by Ronald M. Evans, a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, showed that two cellular switches found on the nucleus of mouse cells, known as REV-ERBα and REV-ERBβ, are essential for maintaining normal sleeping and eating cycles and for metabolism of nutrients from food. The findings, reported March 29 in Nature, describe a powerful link between circadian rhythms and metabolism and suggest a new avenue for treating disorders of both systems, including jet lag, sleep disorders, obesity and diabetes.
“This fundamentally changes our knowledge about the workings of the circadian clock and how it orchestrates our sleep-wake cycles, when we eat and even the times our bodies metabolize nutrients,” says Evans. “Nuclear receptors can be targeted with drugs, which suggests we might be able to target REV-ERBα and β to treat disorders of sleep and metabolism.”
Nurses, emergency personnel and others who work shifts that alter the normal 24-hour cycle of waking and sleeping are at much higher risk for a number of diseases, including metabolic disorders such as diabetes. To address this, scientists are trying to understand precisely how the biological clock works and uncover possible targets for drugs that could adjust the circadian rhythm in people with sleep disorders and circadian-associated metabolic disorders.