Jet Lag Could Increase Susceptibility to Infection

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Biological ClockThe body is an amazing machine, with many processes that turn on and off naturally with unbelievable precision. The body’s circadian rhythms ensure that the various processes follow the cycles that keep the body operating efficiently. Scientists have now found that confusing the master clock that drives the body’s processes might impair a person’s immune system and prevent them from being able to effectively fight infection and disease.

People who travel for long distances into different time zones, and those who sleep during the day and stay up at night often experience severe tiredness. In travelers, this phenomenon is called jet lag. New findings may help explain why those whose internal clocks have been disrupted are more likely to experience immune disorders. The new study performed by Lora Hooper, an immunologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, was performed on mice.

Typically, the immune system releases cells that will fight off infections and toxins. However, when these cells pile up, they can become problematic. TH17 cells that normally fight harmful germs and fungi are a perfect example. They cause inflammation that is beneficial on a small level. When there are too many, it can get out of hand and lead to diseases like asthma, allergies, arthritis or heart disease.

When the mice in the study were exposed to a lab version of jet lag, TH17 cells accumulated. In mice whose body clocks were kept normal, no change occurred. The mice were also exposed to chemicals which are known to cause immune problems. In those mice with jet lag, inflammation was more likely to occur than in those with normally operating clocks. The results indicate that resetting the internal clock may put an animal at a greater risk of developing immune disorders.

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