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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Jet Lag and Diabetes

Sleep problems—due to night shift work or excessive jet lag—and type 2 diabetes might seem like totally unrelated medical issues. But UC San Diego biologists discovered there may be a real link between the two—a biochemical one, in fact.

They found that a key protein that regulates the biological clocks of mammals also regulates glucose production in the liver. In fact, altering the levels of this protein improved the health of diabetic mice.

Their discovery, published in a recent issue of the journal Nature Medicine, provides an entirely new biochemical approach for scientists to develop treatments for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

It also raises the interesting possibility that some of the rise in diabetes in the United States and other major industrialized countries could be a consequence of disturbances in sleep-wake cycles from our increasingly around-the-clock lifestyles.

“We know that mice that don’t have good biological clocks tend to develop diabetes and obesity,” says Steve Kay, dean of the Division of Biological Sciences and one of the lead authors of the research study. “And we know that mice that have developed diabetes and obesity tend not to have very good biological clocks. This reciprocal relationship between
circadian rhythm and the maintenance of a constant supply of glucose in the body had been known for some time. But what we found that’s so significant is that a particular biological clock protein, cryptochrome, is actually regulating how the hormone that regulates glucose production in the liver works in a very specific way.”

“The study may explain why shift workers, whose biological clocks are often out of kilter, also have a greater risk of developing obesity and insulin resistance,” says Marc Montminy, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and another lead author.

—Kim McDonald