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I Dream of Genes

Researchers from Japan and Texas have pinpointed two genes that seem to regulate rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in mice, Medical News Today reports.

Using a forward genetics approach, investigators led by Masashi Yanagisawa from University of Tsukuba and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center randomly inserted mutations into mice and screened them for sleep abnormalities based on EEG and EMG monitoring, as they report in Nature. By screening some 8,000 mice, they uncovered a mutant pedigree they dubbed Sleepy that exhibited longer-than-usual sleep time. Using an exon-skipping approach, they confirmed that a Sik3 splice mutation was the likely genetic cause of the phenotype.

At the same time, the researchers uncovered mice with abnormal REM sleep, which they dubbed Dreamless. They traced this phenotype to a heterozygous missense mutation in the Nalcn gene.

These genes, the researchers report, likely have roles in the regulation of REM and non-REM sleep. Further, the proteins produced by these genes could represent drug targets for sleep disorders, Medical News Today adds.

"At least in theory, this study opens up future possibilities to create new sleep-regulating drugs, but doing so will occur in the distant future," Yanagisawa tells Medical News Today.