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Study identifies "visual system" protein for circadian rhythm stability

Teneurin-3 appears to help wire the brain in mice to resist changes in sleep and other cycles linked to changing light
December 27, 2023

Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have identified a protein in the visual system of mice that appears to be key for stabilizing the body’s circadian rhythms by buffering the brain’s response to light. The finding, published Dec. 5 in PLoS Biology, advances efforts to better treat sleep disorders and jet lag, the study authors say.

Circadian systems are essentially “trained” by exposure to light. Although researchers have made significant headway over the last few decades in outlining the mechanisms responsible for circadian rhythms, it has remained unclear how the brain becomes wired for them.

The research team quickly zeroed in on a cell surface protein called teneurin-3 (Tenm3), part of a larger family of proteins that play key roles in the visual system circuit assembly and more generally in other central nervous system circuits.

The study findings suggest to the authors that Tenm3 helps wire the brain to maintain stable circadian rhythms even when light exposure is variable. By learning more about this system and Tenm3’s role, researchers may eventually be able to diagnose and treat glitches that lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders in people, or possibly develop treatments for jet lag.