Researchers at MIT have discovered that a gene called SIRT1, previously known to be involved in ageing and metabolism, also plays an important role in sleeping and waking patterns, known as circadian rhythms. Problems with this body clock have been linked to obesity and disorders such as diabetes, but it's not been clear how it's all connected. Publishing their findings in the journal Cell, Hung-Chun Chang and Lenny Guarente showed that circadian rhythms start to go awry in mice as they get older, and that this can be corrected by giving them more SIRT1.
The research suggests the exciting possibility that drugs that activate SIRT1 could help to keep the body clock ticking as we age, and stave off some of the associated health problems. Such drugs are already being tested against diabetes, inflammation and other diseases, but they don't cross into the brain, where the body clock's main mechanism is kept. But Guarente thinks it should be possible to design drugs that get round this problem and can help keep the clock going.