Ever wondered why we sleep? Well, a new study based on the roundworm C. elegans
has provided the answer, by identifying a gene that regulates sleep. The study, led by David M.
Raizen, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, stated that the round worm
has a sleep-like state.

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In the
study, the researchers showed that there is a period of behavioural serenity
during the worm’s development called lethargus that has sleep-like properties.

"Just as humans are less
responsive during sleep, so is the worm during lethargus. And, just as humans
fall asleep faster and sleep deeper following sleep deprivation, so does the
worm," Nature quoted Raizen, as saying.

The research team used C.
elegans as a model system to identify the gene that regulates sleep. This gene,
which encodes a protein kinase and is regulated by a small molecule called
cyclic GMP, has been previously studied but not suspected to play a role in
sleep regulation.

demonstrating that worms sleep, the researchers have not only showed the
ubiquity of sleep in nature, but also propose a compelling hypothesis for the
purpose for sleep.

Since the
time of lethargus coincides with a time in the round worms’ life cycle when
synaptic changes occur in the nervous system, they propose that sleep is a state
required for nervous system plasticity.

In other words, in order for
the nervous system to grow and change, there must be down time of active

The findings
suggest a potential role for this gene in regulating human sleep and may provide
an avenue for developing new drugs for sleep disorders.

Via Times of India