Researchers are working on what could become an instant solution to jet lag.
Molecules called vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) are known to synchronize time-keeping neurons in the brain. In high dosage, VIP can have a rather interesting effect on our internal clock. An ongoing study by Erik Herzog at Washington University has revealed that it is probably possible for us to adapt to abrupt changes in night-to-light schedule in a very ‘natural’ way.
Most people on Earth probably work on a rise and shine schedule, and often times when they step out of their ‘zone’ (i.e. a trip across the ocean to a different time zone) their bodies and minds become somewhat dysfunctional. In most cases, it just takes a night or two of rest and ‘syncing’ for the lag effect to wear off and things will be okay again. For business travelers and people on tight schedules, however, the lag affect can have a tremendous effect on how they work and what could be accomplished in short time frames.
In the mammal brain, there are roughly about 20,000 nerve cells (knotted up in something that’s called a suprachiasmatic nucleus [SCN]) which regulate how time is perceived. The interesting point here is that the neurons in the SCN operate on a slightly different ‘rhythm.’ VIP, as we mentioned earlier, is the molecule that help the neurons communicate with each other. On a regular dose of VIP, our internal clock functions normally and it’ll take us awhile to sync with our environments when there’s an abrupt change. As the researchers found out, however, an increase of VIP can cause the clock to become de-synchronized, and therefore causing the neurons to shuffle around much quicker in its attempt to ‘reset’.
Much like how a computer can sometime crash and freeze, the quickest way for people to get it back to operational status is to hit the reset button. An overload of VIP, as the researchers are supposing, act in a similar way by inducing a sort of quick ‘reset’ for the brain when its internal clock is out of sync with the surroundings.
Herzog and his colleagues found that when they gave some lab mice a shot of VIP prior to flying them to another time zone, the mice had their ‘jet lag’ effect cut in half.
“We found that in mice we could cut ‘jet lag’ in half by giving them a shot of VIP the day before we ‘flew them to a new time zone’ by shifting their light schedule,” said Herzog. “That’s really exciting. This is the first demonstration that giving a bit more of a substance to the brain already makes actually improves the way the circadian system functions.”
Intuitively, some people will try to sync their internal clock with the time zone they’ll be arriving to by possibly sleeping later or earlier a day or two prior to making the trip. This approach to time adjustments, however, isn’t feasible for everyone, and the next best and possibly quickest way to adapt is to induce a ‘natural’ increase in VIP.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to find a way to coax the brain into releasing its own stores of VIP or light trigger or other signal that mimics the effects of VIP,” Herzog said.
Source: Washington University, the guardian (image)