Researchers at the Scripps Research Institute say they have taken a leap forward in their quest to understand the proteins that control the human circadian clock — the 24-hour wake-sleep cycle that, when interrupted, can lead to jet lag and other sleep disturbances. Researchers report that they have been able to determine the molecular structure of a plant photolyase protein that is surprisingly similar to two cryptochrome proteins that control the “master clock” in humans and other mammals. They have also been able to test how structural changes affect the function of these proteins.
If you’ve ever been sleep-deprived, you know the feeling that your brain is full of wool. Now, a study published in the April 3 edition of the journal Science has molecular and structural evidence of that woolly feeling — proteins that build up in the brains of sleep-deprived fruit flies and drop to lower levels in the brains of the well-rested. The proteins are located in the synapses, those specialized parts of neurons that allow brain cells to communicate with other neurons.