The importance of our circadian rhythms cannot be overstated.
Circadian rhythms function much like an internal clock in your brain that regulates a variety of bodily cycles, including cycling between sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. It also helps regulate bodily functions such as digestion and body temperature.
Disrupted circadian rhythms can lead to sleep disorders, obesity, and diabetes. Recent studies have even examined the connection between working the night shift and an increased risk of cancer.
Now, a new study published in the journal Development considers how a gene that regulates your circadian rhythms may impact breast cancer specifically.
Your Master Clock And The Per2 Gene
In each of our brains, there is a structure called the superchiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This structure consists of a grouping of 20,000 nerve cells that together act as a “Master Clock,” according to the National Institute of Health. The Master Clock’s main job is to keep all our biological clocks coordinated and working together.
The Master Clock also communicates with the clocks in our individual cells. Study author Professor Weston Porter told ScienceDaily, “Not only do we have a central clock, but every one of our cells has one of these peripheral clocks and they’re in coordination with the central clock. When you wake up in the morning and see light, the light goes right into the brain and it triggers this molecular mechanism that regulates the (circadian rhythm) process.”
These peripheral clocks are assisted by the Per2 gene within all our cells. This gene is integral to maintaining our circadian rhythms.
The Per2 Gene May Also Stop Cancer And Tumor Growth
In the study, Porter and his colleagues suppressed the Per2 gene in a sample of mice and found that it may stop tumor growth in mammary glands.
The mice with blocked Per2 functions showed abnormal growths in their mammary glands. “We discovered that these glands have what we call a kind of a bipotent phenotype; they’re actually halfway to cancer,” said Porter.
“We started to look at the mechanism associated with that and found that the stem cell markers associated with a loss of Per2 are more basal, which is characteristic of more invasive cancer,” Porter said. “This reinforces the idea that Per2 is functioning as a tumor suppressor gene associated with cell identity.”
What This Means For Us
The study from Texas A&M University shows a link between the disruption of our circadian rhythms or healthy sleep cycles and the potential progression of cancer and other impairments. Still, experts caution that more research is needed.
“Right now, we are investigating how our findings relate to humans,” said Porter. “There are studies out there showing a relationship between decreased levels of Per2 and certain types of breast cancer, which are more invasive. So, we believe that there is a direct relationship.”
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