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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Sep 12;103(37):13843-7. Epub 2006 Aug 28.

A Drosophila model for age-associated changes in sleep:wake cycles.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Neuroscience, School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


One of the most consistent behavioral changes that occurs with age in humans is the loss of sleep consolidation. This can be quite disruptive and yet little is known about its underlying basis. To better understand the effects of aging on sleep:wake cycles, we sought to study this problem in Drosophila melanogaster, a powerful system for research on aging and behavior. By assaying flies of different ages as well as monitoring individual flies constantly over the course of their lifetime, we found that the strength of sleep:wake cycles decreased and that sleep became more fragmented with age in Drosophila. These changes in sleep:wake cycles became faster or slower with manipulations of ambient temperature that decreased or increased lifespan, respectively, demonstrating that they are a function of physiological rather than chronological age. The effect of temperature on lifespan was not mediated by changes in overall activity level or sleep amount. Flies treated with the oxidative stress-producing reagent paraquat showed a breakdown of sleep:wake cycles similar to that seen with aging, leading us to propose that the accumulation of oxidative damage with age contributes to the changes in rhythm and sleep. Together, these findings establish Drosophila as a valuable model for studying age-associated sleep fragmentation and breakdown of rhythm strength, and indicate that these changes in sleep:wake cycles are an integral part of the physiological aging process.

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