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Scientists identify genetic link to shift work fatigue

By Ryan Maass
Some shift workers may have more suitable genes for circadian disruptions than others, researchers say. Photo by skeeze/Pixabay
Some shift workers may have more suitable genes for circadian disruptions than others, researchers say. Photo by skeeze/Pixabay

HELSINKI, Finland, Nov. 4 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Helsinki say there is a genetic explanation for why some people do not adjust to shift work as well as others.

In a study published in the journal Sleep, scientists concluded that not everyone has the genes for tolerating disruptions to their daily rhythm. They linked the melatonin receptor 1A, or MTNR1A, to job-related exhaustion.

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Melatonin is a natural hormone created in the body's pineal gland, which is typically inactive during the day. After the sun goes down, the gland begins producing melatonin and releasing it into the blood, making the body tired.

During the study, scientists found a link to the melatonin receptor gene in a group of 176 workers included in the national Health 2000 survey in Finland, in addition to another group of 577 shift workers specializing in care work and aviation.

According to the study's authors, MTNR1A is likely related to the methylation of DNA, one of the mechanisms responsible for regulating the genome's function. A smaller number of melatonin receptors was linked to weaker signaling.

"The variant we have now discovered can only explain a small part of the variation between individuals, and it cannot be used as a basis to determine a person's tolerance to shift work," lead researcher Tiina Paunio explained in a press release.

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