(ORDO NEWS) — By studying the brains of fruit flies, scientists have found that their neurons can adapt to keep the insect awake in a dangerous situation despite being tired, or fall asleep quickly after a hard day.
The results of the study will allow the creation of new approaches to the treatment of insomnia in humans and improve the quality of sleep.
When we get sick or don’t get enough sleep, we feel more sleepy. However, in a dangerous or disturbing situation, a person will not be able to fall asleep, regardless of the degree of fatigue.
That is, the neurons that regulate sleep are somehow able to tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate sleep.
To uncover the mechanism that regulates this, scientists from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Missouri in Kansas City (USA) studied the sleep of Drosophila fruit flies.
Their sleep and wake habits are similar to ours: they are active during the day and sleep at night, and they also like to take a little nap during the day, especially in the heat.
Caffeine makes fruit flies more active, and human sleeping pills make them sleepy.
However, there is a significant difference between us and insects: the Drosophila brain is a million times smaller than a human.
And this allows us to determine the role of each nerve cell in it. The authors focused on 24 brain neurons that control sleep and wakefulness in flies.
These neurons receive and respond to signals sent by other neurons in the form of neurotransmitters.
The scientists investigated whether environmental stimuli affect the flies’ sleep and how their 24 neurons respond to wake-promoting dopamine and allatostatin A, and sleep-promoting glutamate.
Allatostatin A is known to play a role in eating behavior, and now it appears to be important in sleep regulation as well.
Sleep strengthens memory and improves learning ability. Both humans and flies sleep more after a busy day.
Scientists have shown that living in an environment crowded with relatives and new signals, or learning new behaviors, causes molecular changes in the fly’s sleep neurons.
They become less sensitive to dopamine, hence they want to sleep more.
On the other hand, when the researchers disturbed the flies by periodically shaking the vials containing them, the neurons produced both allatostatin A and glutamate.
The combination of two opposite signals kept fruit flies awake in a stressful situation, despite being tired.
The causes of insomnia in humans are not fully known. Some evidence suggests a genetic predisposition to how neurological signals are interpreted by sleep centers in the brain.
If any disturbances occur in this system, the brain receives conflicting signals, and a tired person cannot fall asleep.
By understanding how opposite signals can occur simultaneously, scientists can develop new treatments for insomnia.
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