Tech UPTechnologyNemuri: the gene that numbs the sick

Nemuri: the gene that numbs the sick

You are apparently not a fruit fly, but 60 percent of the genes of that insect can be found in your body and many other mammals in a very similar way. Hence, Drosophila melanogaster (Greek for black-bellied mistress) is used so much in investigations of physiological processes that it has a counterpart in humans. In addition, it is cheap, very fertile, it reproduces at full speed and no one – animals included – cares what is done to them.

The long-suffering fruit flies have just starred in an experiment by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, who have discovered that these humble Diptera have a gene called NEMURI that increases their need for sleep. The gene directs the synthesis of an antibacterial protein: it is secreted by neurons near structures in the brain related to sleep, and it induces a long and deep rest after suffering an infection, which helps the body to recover. Bottom line: the strength of the immune system would depend in part on getting a good night’s sleep.

Given the genetic similarities between fruit flies and humans, the authors of the work believe that the results could be extrapolated. It should be remembered that around 75 percent of the genes that are known to cause disease do the same in flies, and that flies have more than 90 of the genes linked to cancer in people.

The healing power of sleep

The researchers found that flies without the NEMURI gene awoke more easily and coped with sleep deprivation better. They also found that this gene is activated in insects that are prevented from sleeping or have bacterial infections. The protein it synthesizes increases the drowsiness of infected animals, deepens their sleep and increases their survival rate compared to that of bacteria-free flies.

Amita Sehgal, professor of Neuroscience and director of the Chronobiology program at the University of Pennsylvania, indicates that “although it is well known that sleeping well and healing are linked processes, our work directly links sleep with the immune system, and provides a possible explanation of how the disease increases the need to sleep ”.

Protein- like molecules whose synthesis is directed by NEMURI have been discovered in some species of frogs and fish, but not in mammals. Hirofumi Toda, lead author of the study and student of Sehgal, says that “in the next phase of our work we will try to find out how NEMURI induces sleep.”

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