Sleep May Not Be Controlled Only by the Brain According to Research Led By Morehouse School of Medicine

Muscle may play a role in regulating sleep

Ronna Charles

ATLANTA – August 7, 2017—A recently released study from a team led by Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) shows that the process controlling sleep may not lie totally in the brain. Research published in the scientific journal eLife demonstrates that a circadian clock protein in the skeletal muscle, BMAL1, can regulate sleep amount and the ability to recover from lost sleep.

“We thought sleep was regulated by the main biological clock and other processes located primarily within the brain. Our findings are the first to show that an organ outside the brain, skeletal muscle, plays a significant role in the regulation of sleep, and changes the way we think about sleep regulation.” said neurobiologist Christopher Ehlen, Ph.D., one of the lead researchers for the team.

This discovery could lead to the development of new therapies and drugs to treat sleep disorders.

“This is also the first demonstration that circadian mechanisms outside the brain regulate sleep amount,” said Dr. Ehlen. “If similar mechanisms are present in humans, this study could lead to a new potential target for the treatment of sleep disorders—skeletal muscle. It also suggests that the beneficial effects of exercise on sleep may be through skeletal muscle circadian clocks, and that the loss of skeletal muscle in aging, disease or space exploration may have a causal role in producing sleep disorders.”

MSM researchers led the study and included scientists from the University of Florida and the University of Texas Southwestern. MSM’s contributors included lead researcher, MSM Adjunct Professor and University of California, Los Angeles, Associate Professor of Integrative Biology and Physiology Dr. Ketema Paul, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology Dr. Ehlen, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology Dr. Jason DeBruyne, MSM post-doctoral associates Allison Brager, Ph.D., and Cloe Gray, Ph.D., Julie Baggs, Ph.D., and research assistant Lennisha Pinckney, MPH.

The study 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.

Read more about this ground-breaking research in the published study.

About Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM)
Founded in 1975, Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) is among the nation's leading educators of primary care physicians, biomedical scientists and public health professionals. In 2011, MSM was recognized by Annals of Internal Medicine as the nation’s No. 1 medical school in fulfilling a social mission. MSM faculty and alumni are noted for excellence in teaching, research and public policy, as well as exceptional patient care.

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