June 8, 2005
For years, researchers have struggled to understand the brain's role in dealing with jet lag. Recently, Doctors finally may have found a link, and treatment could be just around the corner.
Traveling across various time zones can take it's toll on the human body.
"It took me a week to recover, just really drowsy," said Geoff Howells.
Howells often travels worldwide on business. He just got back from a 30-hour trip to Asia that left him feeling awful.
"I thought it was some kind of virus or something, but I'm pretty sure it was jet lag," said Howells.
About five years ago, researchers at the University of Virgina and in the Netherlands began looking deeper into jet lag. They focused on the brain's biological clock which has two parts, the ventral and the dorcal. The two parts can fall out of sync during light schedule shifts of six hours, enough time to fly over the Atlantic.
"The ventral part is connected to the retina and it shifts very rapidly in response to the time zone changes, the dorcal part shifts more slowly," said Gene Block, professor of biology at UVA.
The dorcal's slow shift can lead to jet lag. But what researchers didn't know before is that the two parts are connected by a neurostransmitter called GABA.
"By understanding GABA is involved, we can began to address the questions of how we can change the speed of resychronization," explained Block.
Now, researchers are looking into treatments that would help enhance GABA, causing the two parts to communicate faster and alleviate some of the symptoms caused by jet lag. Those are symptoms Howells would gladly do without.
"It would help my job, because I'd be back in action as soon as I get back. My boss like it " he said.
Professor Block says those treatments may also help people with sleep disorders or who work rotating shifts, but it still could be another five years before they're available.