Research highlight

Pharmacology: Keep calm and stay awake

Nature Communications

December 24, 2014

A synthetic molecule that targets the innate body clock can help mice to stay awake and keep calm, reports a paper in Nature Communications this week. The authors hope that this compound might lead to the development of a new class of drugs for the treatment of anxiety, sleep disorders and addiction.

The mammalian body clock, with its various genetic and molecular components, plays a key role in physiology and behaviour. When the clock is disrupted - for example through shift work, drugs or genetic mutation - physical and mental health may suffer. Thomas Burris and colleagues now show how treating mice with a molecule that interacts with a specific component of the mammalian clock can increase wakefulness, suppress sleep and reduce anxiety-like behaviour.

The molecule, called SR9011, is unique because existing anxiolytics, such as benzodiazepines, reduce anxiety but cause drowsiness. This would be the first anti-anxiety drug not to cause sleepiness and, based on rodent behavioural studies, it appears to have a lower potential for abuse than benzodiazepines. The molecule also suppresses reward seeking behaviour in mice so may prove useful in the treatment of addiction, however further research is necessary to determine its effect in humans.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms6759

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