Public Release: 

Calcium controls sleep duration in mice

University of Tokyo

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IMAGE: The research group used genetically engineered mice that expressed a green fluorescent protein when neural activity increases to monitor brain activity. (Left) Low-level neural activity during sleep without inhibition of... view more

Credit: Copyright: Ueda lab.

University of Tokyo and RIKEN researchers have identified seven genes responsible for causing mice to stay awake or fall asleep based on a theoretical model of sleep and on experiments using 21 different genetically-modified mice, some of which showed different sleep durations. Researchers hope that their research will contribute to the understanding and treatment of sleep disorders and associated neurodegenerative diseases.

All animals appear to sleep for varying durations. In humans, sleep duration changes over our lifetime, gradually reducing from birth through to old age. The mammalian body appears to use time spent asleep to recover from the effects of daily life, such as removing waste products from the brain and restoring the immune system, and may use the time to process experiences and lay down long-term memories. However, the fundamental reasons for sleep and the mechanisms by which sleep duration is regulated remain largely unknown.

Professor Hiroki Ueda and his research group at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Medicine and the RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center developed a computational model of sleep, based on which they predicted that sleep duration is regulated by calcium and identified multiple genes that were potentially involved. The research group then tested their predictions against 21 different genetically modified mouse types to reveal that a mechanism regulated by calcium ions is indeed responsible for controlling sleep duration.

The research group applied an efficient type of the CRISPR method developed in earlier research to remove genes involved in calcium regulation to create 21 genetically modified mice. Out of the 21, seven exhibited significant changes in sleep duration. In addition, the research group also showed that the inflow of calcium ions into neurons is required for mice to fall asleep and that pumping calcium ions out of neurons is required for mice to wake up. These results were in line with their predictions from the computational model.

"We were thrilled that our experimental data backed up the predictions of our model so well," says Fumiya Tatsuki, the first author of the paper. He continues, "Our recently developed "snappy sleep stager," which monitors breathing to measure sleep duration without harming the mice, was an essential tool for evaluating whether our genetically modified mice exhibited changes in sleep duration."

"Sleep is one of the most fundamental physiological functions. From flies to humans, it seems that most animals sleep, but we still know so little about the molecular processes by which sleep duration is regulated. This research has provided us with a wide range of potential targets for future research and therapies," says Ueda. "In addition, many mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases are also associated with sleep disorders, so understanding how sleep is regulated may lead to a deeper understanding of those diseases and future treatments."

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Journal article

Fumiya Tatsuki, Genshiro A. Sunagawa, Shoi Shi, Etsuo A. Susaki, Hiroko Yukinaga, Dimitri Perrin, Kenta Sumiyama, Maki Ukai-Tadenuma, Hiroshi Fujishima, Rei-ichiro Ohno, Daisuke Tone, Koji L. Ode, Katsuhiko Matsumoto and Hiroki R. Ueda,

Involvement of Ca2+-dependent hyperpolarization in sleep duration in mammals, Neuron, Eastern US Time 12:00 pm on 17 March 2016 (online).

doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.02.032

https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2016.02.032

Collaborating institutions

RIKEN Quantitative Biology Center
http://www.qbic.riken.jp/english/

Research contact

Name: Hiroki Ueda
Affiliation: Department of Systems Pharmacology, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo
Address: 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan,
Tel: +81-3-5841-3415
Fax: +81-3-5841-3418
Email: uedah-tky@umin.ac.jp

About the University of Tokyo

The University of Tokyo is Japan's leading university and one of the world's top research universities. The vast research output of some 6,000 researchers is published in the world's top journals across the arts and sciences. Our vibrant student body of around 15,000 undergraduate and 15,000 graduate students includes over 2,000 international students. Find out more at http://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/en/ or follow us on Twitter at @UTokyo_News_en.

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