Better understanding of this mechanism could lead to new drug targets to address sleep-wake trouble related to jet lag, shift work and other clock-induced problems.
Eventually, it might be possible to reset a person's internal clock to suit his or her situation.
The researchers call this a "bicycle" mechanism: two pedals that go up and down across a 24-hour day, conveying important time information to the neurons. The researchers found the two pedals -- a sodium current and potassium currents -- active in both the simple fruit fly and the more complex mouse was unexpected. The balance between sodium and potassium currents controls the animal's circadian rhythms. "Our starting point for this research was mutant flies missing a sodium channel who walked in a halting manner and had poor circadian rhythms," Allada noted.
"Now, of course, we have more questions about what's regulating this sleep-wake pathway, so there is more work to be done,a he concluded. The findings were published in the journal, Cell.