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A cure for insomnia could be on the way

The discovery of an enzyme that regulates the sleep-wake cycle could help researchers to develop a cure for insomnia.

Image: Photo Extremist via Creative Commons/Flickr

A CURE FOR insomnia is closer to being developed following the discovery of an enzyme that regulates wake and sleep, researchers have claimed.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) say that the enzyme plays a crucial role in the sleep-wake cycle by triggering shifts in consciousness.

There are two main stages of sleep – REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep – both of which are essential in order for the body to properly rest. During REM sleep, the brain is active , the muscles in the body are paralyzed and dreaming occurs. In contrast, during non-REM sleep, the body repairs itself, EurekAlert reports.

Researchers discovered that when the enzyme, known as calcium/calmodulin kinase (CaMKII), was blocked using an inhibitor natural states of both REM and non-REM sleep occurred. However, when it was unblocked, subjects entered a natural state of wakefulness.

Those carrying out the study noted that only very low doses of therapeutic agents were required to block or unblock CaMKII – raising hopes that any medication eventually developed may not pose a great likelihood of side-effects.

“Sleep, one of the most mysterious regular shifts in consciousness, is regulated by a delicate balance between biological processes, the environment and behavior, but the mechanisms involved in the regulation are not well understood,” explained Subimal Datta, PhD, director and principle investigator at the Laboratory of Sleep and Cognitive Neuroscience at BUSM.

“The ultimate goal of my research is to deepen the understanding of how sleep is regulated at the cellular level, which could lead to finding the causes and cures for a variety of sleep disorders,” he added.

The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience

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