College of LAS « Illinois

Cell and Structural Biology

Timeless—The Protein that Puts You to Sleep


A study conducted by LAS researchers on the protein Timeless might put people to sleep…and the scientists are thrilled. They're excited because the study shows how Timeless influences the sleep schedules of mammals, research that could some day improve the nights of those suffering from jet lag and sleep disorders.

Timeless is known to be important in regulating the circadian rhythm, or the 24-hour clock, of fruit flies. Because fly bodies are relatively thin, light can pass through them and break down the protein, keeping the flies' systems regulated according to night and day. The protein exists in mammals, but it doesn't work the same way because mammal bodies aren't transparent.

Martha Gillette, professor of cell and structural biology, graduate student Jessica Barnes, professor of veterinary biosciences Shelley Tischkau, and graduate student Jeff Barnes used rat brains to study the importance of Timeless in mammals. In mammals, the protein appears in two forms, a long and a short. The short form remains stable, but the long form goes through cycles, which signaled to the researchers that it might influence the body's clock. To test their hypothesis they took the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the body's home for the master clock, and covered it in a solution to stop the long version of Timeless from forming. Without Timeless, the rat brains' clocks stopped working, which surprised the team because manipulation of other elements of the cerebral clock throws off timing, but it never before shut down completely. This result suggests that is a big gear in the circadian clock.

Summer 2004