Our internal body clocks regulate nearly every cell in the human body, driving 24-hour cycles in many processes such as sleeping, hormone secretion, and metabolism.
In the lungs, the clock is mainly located in the main air carrying passages—the airways.
In a recent study from the Universities of Manchester and elsewhere, researchers found that people who regularly sleep for more than 11 hours or less than 4 hours are 2-3 times more likely to have the incurable disease, pulmonary fibrosis, compared to those that sleep for 7 hours in a day.
They attributed this association to the body clock. They also found that targeting the body clock may improve treatments and reduce fibrosis.
The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. One lead author is Dr. John Blaikley from The University of Manchester.
In the study, the team discovered that in people with lung fibrosis, these clock oscillations extend out to the small air spaces, called alveoli.
Studies in mice have revealed that by altering the clock mechanism it was possible to disrupt the fibrotic process making the animals more likely to develop pulmonary fibrosis.
The researchers then showed that pulmonary fibrosis is associated with short and long sleep duration using human data from the UK Biobank.
The link between sleep duration and lung fibrosis is similar in strength to other known risk factors for this disease.
The team found that people who report they regularly sleep 4 hours or less in a day doubled their chance of having pulmonary fibrosis while those sleeping 11 hours or longer in a day tripled their chance of having the disease, compared to those sleeping 7 hours per day.
Smaller, but still elevated, risks were also seen in people who like to stay up late at night or those who do shift work.
The researchers explain their findings by the discovery that a core clock protein (REVERBα) which alters the production of a key protein in lung fibrosis (collagen).
The authors were able to show that one of these REVERBα compounds can reduce collagen in lung slices from people with this disease.
The team says pulmonary fibrosis is a devastating condition that is incurable at present. Therefore, the discovery that the body clock is potentially a key player potentially opens new ways to treat or prevent the condition.
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