Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have determined how serotonin decreases the body’s sensitivity to light and that exposure to constant darkness leads to a decrease in serotonin levels in the brain of fruit flies. These findings suggest that serotonin may play a role in maintaining circadian rhythm, as well as modulating light-related disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Senior author Amita Sehgal, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at Penn and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator, and colleagues report their findings in the July 7 issue of Neuron.
The body’s 24-hour (circadian) clock controls cycles of wakefulness and sleep, as well as the rhythm of other physiological functions, such as body temperature and blood pressure. Although the body functions on roughly a 24-hour schedule, this cycle is capable of being reset by environmental disturbances. In Sehgal’s lab, fruit flies provide the model system for examining entrainment, the synchronization of the internal clock to the environment.
“In humans, a light pulse in the early evening delays rhythm-if it stays light later, you stay up later,” says Sehgal. “Disturbances in the late evening advance the body clock-an early dawn leads to an early rise.”
Karen Kreeger | EurekAlert!
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