The discovery by Scottish scientists of a new type of cell could end jetlag
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh discovered that the human retina directly affects the biological clock.
It does so by sending signals to a region of the brain which regulates our so-called circadian rhythms – the physical, mental and behavioural changes which follow a 24-hour cycle.
The team hopes greater understanding of how these rhythms are regulated through the eye could lead to new ways of -restoring the body function of those suffering jetlag or working night shifts.
The body’s clock is synchronised to light-dark changes and is important in regulating patterns of body temperature, brain activity, hormone production and other physiological processes.
Disruption of this can lead to health problems such as gastrointestinal and cardiovascular disorders, depression and an increased risk of cancer.
The eye could lead to developing eye drops to get rid of jetlag
Prof Mike Ludwig
The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a region of the brain which co-ordinates the circadian rhythm using many different signalling molecules, including what is known as neurohormone vasopressin.
The retina signals environmental light changes to the SCN but it was previously unclear how this process took place. This research now shows for the first time that the retina has its own vasopressin-expressing cells which communicate directly with the SCN and are involved with regulating the circadian rhythm.
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Cells in the retina directly affect the biological clock, Edinburgh scientists have discovered
Mike Ludwig, professor of neurophysiology at the university said: “Our exciting results show a potentially new pharmacological route to manipulate our internal biological clocks.
“Studies in the future which alter vasopressin signalling through the eye could lead to developing eye drops to get rid of jetlag, but we are still a long way off from this.”
The team hopes to gain a better understanding of how our circadian rhythms change through the day
The findings give an insight into how the biological clock is regulated by light and could open up new therapeutic opportunities to help restore altered circadian rhythms through the eye.
For the study, published in the Journal of Physiology, researchers interfered with the signalling of light information sent to the SCN in rats.
Using a series of physiological tests, they showed that vasopressin-expressing cells in the retina are directly involved in regulating circadian rhythms.