Nobel Prize Winners Unlocked Your Sleep Secrets

By Megan Brooks
WebMD Health News

Oct. 2, 2017 -- For their discoveries of the way circadian rhythm works, three U.S. scientists have been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Jeffrey C. Hall, PhD, Michael Rosbash, PhD, and Michael W. Young, PhD, were able to "peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions," according to a statement from the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

Working with fruit flies, the Nobel laureates isolated the period gene, which controls normal daily biological rhythm. They showed that this gene encodes a protein called PER, which accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day. "Thus, PER protein levels oscillate over a 24-hour cycle, in synchrony with the circadian rhythm," the organization explains.

The scientists then identified more workings of this machinery, exposing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. "We now recognize that biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of other multicellular organisms, including humans," the organization said.

"With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day. The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism," they note.

Hall received his doctoral degree in 1971 at the University of Washington in Seattle and was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena from 1971 to 1973. He joined the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, in 1974. In 2002, he became associated with the University of Maine.

Rosbash received his doctoral degree in 1970 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. The next 3 years, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Since 1974, he has been on the faculty at Brandeis University.

Young received his doctoral degree at the University of Texas in Austin in 1975. Between 1975 and 1977, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. Since 1978, he has been part of the faculty at Rockefeller University in New York City.

The winners will share a prize of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million).

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