(ORDO NEWS) — American researchers discovered a protein that binds the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and showed that blocking it increases the activity of the delta rhythm and improves deep sleep in mice. The protein could be the target of new drugs to treat chronic insomnia.
Healthy sleep is a basic physiological need. Its absence leads to violations of many processes in the body. Chronic sleep problems have been linked to psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. However, healthy sleep can be complicated by lifestyle, environmental factors, and physical and mental health.
The question of exactly how deep sleep affects the functioning of the brain has so far remained unanswered. Now a team of scientists led by researchers from Harvard Medical School (USA) has found a possible solution to this puzzle.
The authors of the work studied neurons in the thalamus of laboratory mice. This region of the brain, among other things, is responsible for the regulation of sleep and wakefulness, in which the delta rhythm occurs – the electrical signals of neurons that appear during the deep phases of sleep and are a hallmark of restorative sleep.
Using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool, the researchers “turned off” the gene that codes for the alpha3 subunit of the receptor that binds the central nervous system’s most important inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
Turning off the gene increased delta wave activity in the mice’s thalamus and enhanced deep sleep. Reproducing the results in other animals can form the basis for the creation of new treatments that target the receptor and induce deep sleep. This may be an alternative pharmacological strategy for providing natural restorative sleep.
Traditional insomnia medications, despite their widespread use, have many drawbacks. Many of them make people fall asleep faster, but at the same time weaken the activity of the delta rhythm.
So while these drugs help manage insomnia, they don’t provide healthy sleep. Scientists hope that the results of their work will allow the creation of sleeping pills that improve deep sleep by increasing the activity of the delta rhythm.
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