Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
There is general agreement within the sleep community and among public health officials of the need for an accessible biomarker of sleepiness. As the foregoing discussions emphasize, however, it may be more difficult to reach consensus on how to define such a biomarker than to identify candidate molecules that can be then evaluated to determine if they might be useful to solve a variety of real-world problems related to insufficient sleep. With that in mind, a goal of our laboratories has been to develop a rational strategy to expedite the identification of candidate biomarkers. 1 We began with the assumption that since both the genetic and environmental context of a gene can influence its behavior, an effective test of sleep loss will likely be composed of a panel of multiple biomarkers. That is, we believe that it is premature to exclude a candidate analyte simply because it might also be modulated in response to other conditions (e.g., illness, metabolism, sympathetic tone, etc.). Our next assumption was that an easily accessible biomarker would be more useful in real-world settings. Thus, we have focused on saliva, as opposed to urine or blood, as a rich source of biological analytes that can be mined to optimize the chances of bringing a biomarker out into the field. Finally, we recognize that conducting validation studies in humans can be expensive and time consuming. Thus, we have exploited genetic and pharmacological tools in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster to more fully characterize the behavior of the most exciting candidate biomarkers.
Thimgan MS; Duntley SP; Shaw PJ. Changes in gene expression with sleep. J Clin Sleep Med 2011;7(5):Supplement S26-S27.