Scientists have found a connection between the muscles and sleep disorders.
A team, led by researchers from the UT Southwestern’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute, found that a protein in the muscle can lessen the effects of sleep loss in mice—which challenges the widely held assumption that the brain controls all aspects of sleep.
This revelation could give scientists a new target to develop therapies for people with sleep disorders.
“This finding is completely unexpected and changes the ways we think sleep is controlled,” Joseph Takahashi, Ph.D., chairman of Neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said in a statement.
The researchers discovered how a circadian clock protein in the muscle known as BMAL1, regulates the length and manner of sleep.
Mice with higher levels of BMAL1 in their muscles recovered quicker from sleep deprivation, while the protein’s presence or absence in the brain had little effect on sleep recovery.
Removing BMAL1 from the muscle severely disrupted normal sleeping, leading to an increased need for sleep, deeper sleep and a reduced ability to recover.
“These studies show that factors in muscles can signal to the brain to influence sleep. If similar pathways exist in people, this would provide new drug targets for the treatment of sleep disorders,” Takahashi said.
The study was a collaboration between UT Southwestern Medical Center, Morehouse School of Medicine, and the University Florida. It was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.
The study was published in eLife.