Cells in the retina light the way to treating jet lag

17 April 2017. Researchers have found a new group of cells in the retina that directly affect the biological clock by sending signals to a region of the brain which regulates our daily (circadian) rhythms. This new understanding of how circadian rhythms are regulated through the eye could open up new therapeutic possibilities for restoring biological clocks in people who have jet lag through travelling or working night shifts.

Biological clocks are synchronized to light-dark changes and are important to regulate 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 suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a region of the brain which co-ordinates the circadian rhythm using many different signalling molecules, including the neurohormone vasopressin. The retina signals environmental light changes to the SCN but it was previously unclear on how this process took place. This research shows for the first time that the retina has its own population of vasopressin-expressing cells which communicate directly to the SCN and are involved with regulating the circadian rhythm. This gives 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.

The 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.

Mike Ludwig, Professor of Neurophysiology at The University of Edinburgh and lead investigator of the study said 'Our exciting results show a potentially new pharmacological route to manipulate our internal biological clocks.'

He added 'Studies in the future which alter vasopressin signalling through the eye could lead to developing eye drops to get rid of jet lag, but we are still a long way off from this.'

The full study, Vasopressin casts light on the suprachiasmatic nucleus, is published in the Journal of Physiology.

ENDS

Notes for Editors

  1. Full paper title: Vasopressin casts light on the suprachiasmatic nucleus DOI: 10.1113/JP274025
    Link to paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/JP274025/full
  2. The Journal of Physiology publishes advances in physiology which increase our understanding of how our bodies function in health and disease. http://jp.physoc.org 
  3. The Physiological Society brings together over 3,500 scientists from over 60 countries. The Society promotes physiology with the public and parliament alike. It supports physiologists by organising world-class conferences and offering grants for research and also publishes the latest developments in the field in its three leading scientific journals, The Journal of Physiology, Experimental Physiology and Physiological Reports. www.physoc.org 

 

Contacts

The Physiological Society: 

Julia Turan, Communications Manager
+44 (0)20 7269 5727
pressoffice@physoc.org