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Cambridge Neuroscientist explains the science of sleep to Varsity Magazine

Dr. Michael Hastings (left) is a Cambridge Neuroscientist working at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology where he investigates the cellular and molecular basis to circadian rhythms and its relevance to metabolic and neurological disease.

He recently took time out from his experiments to explain to Varsity (the University of Cambridge student newspaper) the science and the importance of sleep.

To read the full Varsity article please click on the link below, but in summary: Dr. Hastings explained that our internal clock governs everything measurable: alertness of mind, secretion of stress hormones and detoxification of drugs.

This internal clock is located as a pair of pinhead-sized clusters of about 10,000 nerve cells it the base of the brain in a region called the suprachiasmatic nuclei, or SCN for short (see image right).

Incredibly if you remove the SCN region from the brain and culture these cells in a petri dish they can still sustain their circadian rhythm of electrical activity.  But how? The answer lies in ‘clock genes’ with expression regulated in a complex negative feedback loop within each cell in order to produce the cellular circadian clock. The whole clock gene loop takes approximately 24 hours to complete.

As Michael explains, finding out about these circadian clock genes may help treat a number of disorders characterised by altered internal clocks, including: cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, and even provides an insight into mechanisms of learning and memory which require sleep in order to operate successfully. 

Dr. Hastings signs off with the advice:

"As for Varsity life, it is good to work hard and play hard, but be kind to your clocks: keep to a regular beat!"

To read the full Varsity report, published on the 25th February, please click here.

Article by Dr. Hannah Critchlow, Cambridge Neuroscience Coordinator

Posted on 26/02/2010

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