TOP > About Child Science > Kodomogaku Kotohazime (1998-2000) > The Human Clock: The "rhythm gene" is discovered...can we find a pharmaceutical cure for school refusal?


The Human Clock: The "rhythm gene" is discovered...can we find a pharmaceutical cure for school refusal?

Several days after I sent in the manuscript for the previous article, I found an article in the newspaper that confirmed the existence of a gene that monitors the rhythm of the clock within the human body. Although, in the last article I suspected that it would not be too far in the future until the human "rhythm gene" would be discovered, it indeed became a reality before I expected. I was incredibly pleased to read further that a Japanese researcher had made this astonishing discovery.

In the mid-1980's, the gene that is mainly related to the 24-hour a day cycle, was discovered in the fly and named the "period gene." I was well aware that there was an international competition occurring to find this gene in the human being as well, but am still amazed that it has become a reality so soon. The researcher focused his attention on the critical molecular structure of the period gene. He hypothesized that, somewhere, the same structure existed in the human system and found it in the 17th chromosome. Furthermore, it became clear that the same structure was seen in the mouse. Thus, it can be concluded that -- since the same gene is found in the fly, mouse, and human -- it is a gene that was formed in the early periods of evolution. Of course, it seems natural that this gene existed in such early stages of evolution since it is one that responds to the rhythm of nature, specifically to the earth's rotation. It is then, conceivable that the rhythm of sleep, activities and menses, that is necessary for living, functions on a daily rhythm.

It is important to note that when there is an abnormality in the structure of the period gene, the rhythm is thrown off and becomes too long or too short. Therefore, this gene may naturally control the dysfunctional sleep patterns that I mentioned in my last article. There is no doubt that because the cause of disease and the state of illness has become clearer due to this discovery, newer and better therapies will be developed. At the same time, this discovery can be assumed to help in understanding other rhythmic cycles of the body (e.g., heart rate, respiration, and the menstrual cycle) leading to the development of new treatments for illnesses related to these cycles.

What are the essential roles of the cycles of the human being? In one of my first articles of this series, I wrote about the movement of the baby's hand responding to the rhythm of the mother's voice. This is seen even among adults talking to each other. Analysis of a conversation among adults indicates that the nodding of the head is a response to the voice of the other person. This is how communication takes place on a mutual basis, and not only are the actual spoken words conveyed as information, but also the space that is mutually shared, becomes a part of the communicative message.

In order for the human being to function well, the rhythm gene helps to monitor the morning, daytime and evening of the body in accordance with the earth's cycle. The cycle of sleep and awakening will also be monitored by this rhythm and thus, regulate one's life cycle.

In mammals, it is thought that the gene controlling this human clock exists in the hypothalamus. At least in the mouse, it has been observed that the period gene in the hypothalamus, is active in the daytime, but hardly changes at night, and it has been concluded that it is on a 24 hour a day cycle. The mechanism is said to somehow detect light and is sensitive to such stimuli. Therefore, it is said that a similar mechanism exists for the human being.

Although it is still unclear in humans, the human cycle has always been referred to as being related somehow to the melatonin hormone secreted from the pineal body of the brain. This is the same hormone that is an antagonist to increasing the pigment of the skin.

The biggest gap in the human rhythm or cycle is seen in instances of jet lag. Already, in the United States, the idea of melatonin being an aid to curb jet lag is being offered as a possible treatment and can be obtained quite easily. After reading news of this new possible treatment, on a trip to England, I searched for it everywhere but could not find it. This may suggest that the medicine is by far, not a cure-for-all. It is often stated that a latter stage of school refusal is the dysfunction of the circadian rhythm (often times the night and day cycles being reversed). Continuing a lifestyle with a reversed human rhythm makes going back to school that much more difficult. However, I do believe, that with further research in this field, we are close to the era when even a pharmaceutical cure can be considered as one of the treatments for school refusal, too.
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