Sleep is important and indeed enjoyable, but at the molecular level little is known about why sleep is needed and the exact benefits conferred by a daily period of rest. In November Nature Neuroscience, Joan Hendricks and colleagues from University of Pennsylvania identify the first molecular pathway implicated in the shift between rest and wakefulness.

Hendricks et al. used transgenic and mutant Drosophila melanogaster flies (who spend about 10 hours a day resting) to investigate the role of cAMP response-element binding protein (CREB) in sleep and recovery after sleep deprivation. They found that decreasing or increasing cAMP and CREB activity decreased or increased waking, respectively. In wild types flies — in vivoCREB activity increased after rest deprivation and remained elevated for a 72-hour recovery period, when a rest rebound occurred (Nat Neurosci 2001, 4:1108-1115).

"If we can get at basic mechanisms of how...

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