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Johns Hopkins Health - The Gene That Might Help People Go to Sleep

Fall 2014
Issue No. 26

The Gene That Might Help People Go to Sleep

Date: October 9, 2014


A study of the sleeping patterns of fruit flies might someday help people who have trouble getting their ZZZs.

Flies, like people, tend to doze off at the same time each night, guided by a circadian (biological) clock. But flies with a mutation of a certain gene stay awake, says Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D., a Johns Hopkins neurologist and neuroscientist who conducted the study.

Wu says this mutant gene, called Wide Awake (or Wake for short), appears to interfere with how the internal clock normally tells the fly it’s time to sleep. If researchers figure out a way to change the Wake gene’s message, falling asleep could become much easier for the flies and—because the gene is found in flies and humans—eventually for people, particularly those who work night shifts or otherwise fall out of sync with their circadian clocks.

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