Aging May Disrupt Your Internal Clock, But a New Timekeeper May Be at Work

January 20, 2016

Our genes are master controllers that control processes in our bodies ranging from metabolism to sleep. In the morning, our brains tell the timekeeping genes to put out cortisol to wake-up and in the evening, it puts out melatonin to make you sleepy. Our genes are like an orchestra that keep all the other genes on time. As we age, there is a disruption in the rhythms that cause things to change and there is a loss to the timing in the core clock genes.


Researchers studied brains samples  of seniors immediately after death and found that the prefrontal cortex which sits right behind the forehead and is associated with our body rhythms is responsible for memory and cognition. The researchers discovered that there is a loss in the rhythmicity of the core clock genes which was an expected finding. What they also found was that there are another set of genes that pick up the rhythm in older brains. It was suspected that the other set of genes works as a back-up when the main one becomes less reliable.


This finding was particularly interesting in people with dementia because often in the evenings the patients become irritable and anxious, a condition called sundowning. This could be contributing to neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases that tend to become exposed later in life and disrupt the sleep-wake cycle. It is expected that things will get weaker as we age, but not that things will get stronger. That is why this finding is particularly interesting because it shows that things become more rhythmic. More studies are needed to figure out exactly what those genes do.



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