Role of thyroid hormones in slumber under investigation

August 8, 2007

While the thyroid has long been linked to metabolism, cutting-edge research underway at Rutgers University—Camden is investigating the possibility that thyroid hormones have an important role in sleep regulation.

Thanks to a $415,369 grant from the National Science Foundation, a team of Rutgers-Camden researchers will pinpoint precisely how and when thyroid hormones influence the brain’s sleep-related structures. Findings could yield new knowledge on a previously unknown sleep-regulatory substance and potentially answer why existing sleep medications aren’t the cure-all for everyone.

Joseph V. Martin, a professor of biology, is the principle investigator and Alex Roche, an associate professor of chemistry, is the co-principal investigator of the ambitious project at Rutgers-Camden.

A diagnosis of thyroid cancer in 1991 inspired Martin’s in-depth studies of thyroid hormones for over a decade. Martin has been cancer-free since the removal of his thyroid gland, but his need to compensate for its absence with pills has been educational.

“I have to adjust the dose regularly with my doctor. If it’s too high, I have sleeping problems, if it’s too low there could be lethargy and weight gain,” he points out.

Martin’s professional research has informed his own understanding of his condition. Once he became aware of thyroid hormones’ effect on the brain, he saw connections to his own life and to unsolved problems related to the role of thyroid hormones in the nervous system.

Martin’s previous research established that in the adult brain, thyroid hormones act on receptors on the outside of cells, functioning like neurotransmitters. His findings contrast greatly with the well-documented functions of thyroid hormones, which are secreted from a gland located in the neck and increases cellular activity in nearly all tissues of the body by acting inside cells.

“Thyroid hormones do so much more than regulate weight. We’re really just beginning to learn the true extent of how these hormones impact our overall health,” Martin says.

The research underway at Rutgers-Camden will build on earlier findings by providing specific measurements of the levels of thyroid hormones and the compounds which are derived from them in the brain during circadian rhythms and during sleep and waking. Additional research will include observations of the effect of microinjections of thyroid hormones in sleep-related brain structures of rats.

As in the Rutgers-Camden scientists’ previous research endeavors, undergraduate and graduate students will have an active role in this project.

Source: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Explore further: Newly discovered role of thyroid hormone during pregnancy

Related Stories

Newly discovered role of thyroid hormone during pregnancy

February 20, 2008

Thyroid hormone deficiencies in early pregnancy can cause locomotor underdevelopment in the child, according to research from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet. The results bring new insights into brain ...

How mixing light with salt makes a smolt?

May 5, 2015

For decades, researchers have tried to find out what regulates changes in salmon when they transform from being freshwater to saltwater fish. Now they have come a little closer to an answer.

Would we be better off if we sent email into retirement?

November 13, 2014

This year saw the 43rd anniversary of email. Compared to a human working life, email has after more than four decades on the job now reached retirement age. Is it time for email to step aside to allow us to embrace the alternative?

Zebrafish stripped of stripes

November 6, 2014

Within weeks of publishing surprising new insights about how zebrafish get their stripes, the same University of Washington group is now able to explain how to "erase" them.

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.