A team of scientists has made a very important discovery that could lead to the development of new therapies for insomnia. In fact, the genes and brain cells that cause it have been identified and in the future, perhaps, it will be possible to act on the brain circuits to treat the problem.
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A team of scientists has made a very important discovery that could lead to the development of new therapies againstinsomnia. In fact, they have been identified the genes and cells of the brain that cause it and in the future, perhaps, it will be possible to act on the brain circuits to treat the problem.
We all happen, from time to time, to sleep badly but about 1 in 10 people experience chronic insomnia, a situation that can have a very negative impact on everyday life, leading to the appearance of various symptoms including tiredness, low energy, problems with concentration, mood disorders, performance problems at school or at work, etc.
The biological mechanisms of insomnia are still difficult to understand but some studies seem to suggest that there may be a genetic link. Some genes linked to insomnia have already been identified from past studies but now a new research team, led by Danielle Posthuma, professor of statistical genetics at the University of Vrije in Amsterdam, has evaluated genes and sleep patterns thanks to a huge database that collected data on over 1,3 million people.
By associating common genes with sleep patterns, the researchers were able to identify well 956 new genes whose variants contribute to the risk of insomnia. They then went a step further and observed what cell types and areas of the brain use these genes.
Some of the genes play an important role in the function of axons, the long, thin projections of a nerve cell that carry electrical impulses. Others were active in neurons found in the frontal cortex and subcortical nuclei of the brain, which had previously been identified in brain imaging studies of people suffering from insomnia.
“Our study shows that insomnia, like many other neuropsychiatric disorders, is influenced by hundreds of genes, each of little effect. These genes alone aren't that interesting to look at. What matters is their combined effect on the risk of insomnia. We studied it with a new method, which allowed us to identify specific types of brain cells, such as so-called medium spiny neurons, ”Posthuma said in a statement.
It was also noted that there was a lot of overlap with the genes involved in depression and anxiety. This suggests that the brain circuits that regulate emotions, stress and tension could potentially be promising targets for insomnia treatments.
The study, published in Nature Genetics, is a huge step forward in understanding the genetic background of insomnia, a problem that in the future, who knows, could be treated by acting on brain mechanisms.
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