Dr. Louis Ptacek of the University of California, San Francisco, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, said the protein PKCγ is critical in resetting the food clock if eating habits change.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed normal laboratory mice given food only during their regular sleeping hours would adjust their food clock over time and begin to wake up from their slumber, and run around in anticipation of their new mealtime.
However, the mice lacking the PKCγ gene were not able to respond to changes in their meal time -- instead they slept right through the meal.
In most organisms, biological clockworks are governed by a master clock, referred to as the "circadian oscillator," which keeps track of time and coordinates biological processes with the rhythm of a 24-hour cycle of day and night.
The findings have implications for understanding the molecular basis of diabetes, obesity and other metabolic syndromes because a desynchronized food clock may serve as part of the pathology underlying these disorders, Ptacek said.