Monday, May 02, 2011

Why old folks don’t sleep as well.

Older people have an earlier phase of everyday activity compared with the young. Not only is the consolidation of sleep and wake dramatically reduced, but overall circadian amplitude of hormones and body temperature are lower. Now Pagani et al. find that the biological clocks in cells taken from young and old people have the same periods, but they can be shortened by a heat labile factor in blood serum from older people. Identification of this factor might lead to development of drugs that block its action.:
Human aging is accompanied by dramatic changes in daily sleep–wake behavior: Activity shifts to an earlier phase, and the consolidation of sleep and wake is disturbed. Although this daily circadian rhythm is brain-controlled, its mechanism is encoded by cell-autonomous circadian clocks functioning in nearly every cell of the body. In fact, human clock properties measured in peripheral cells such as fibroblasts closely mimic those measured physiologically and behaviorally in the same subjects. To understand better the molecular mechanisms by which human aging affects circadian clocks, we characterized the clock properties of fibroblasts cultivated from dermal biopsies of young and older subjects. Fibroblast period length, amplitude, and phase were identical in the two groups even though behavior was not, thereby suggesting that basic clock properties of peripheral cells do not change during aging. Interestingly, measurement of the same cells in the presence of human serum from older donors shortened period length and advanced the phase of cellular circadian rhythms compared with treatment with serum from young subjects, indicating that a circulating factor might alter human chronotype. Further experiments demonstrated that this effect is caused by a thermolabile factor present in serum of older individuals. Thus, even though the molecular machinery of peripheral circadian clocks does not change with age, some age-related circadian dysfunction observed in vivo might be of hormonal origin and therefore might be pharmacologically remediable.

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