Starvation, which is common in the wild, appears to initiate a genetic program that allows fruitflies to remain awake without the sleepiness and cognitive impairments that typically follow sleep deprivation.
Extended periods of waking result in physiological impairments in humans, rats, and flies. Sleep homeostasis, the increase in sleep observed following sleep loss, is believed to counter the negative effects of prolonged waking by restoring vital biological processes that are degraded during sleep deprivation. Sleep homeostasis, as with other behaviors, is influenced by both genes and environment. We report here that during periods of starvation, flies remain spontaneously awake but, in contrast to sleep deprivation, do not accrue any of the negative consequences of prolonged waking. Specifically, the homeostatic response and learning impairments that are a characteristic of sleep loss are not observed following prolonged waking induced by starvation. Recently, two genes, brummer (bmm) and Lipid storage droplet 2 (Lsd2), have been shown to modulate the response to starvation. bmm mutants have excess fat and are resistant to starvation, whereas Lsd2 mutants are lean and sensitive to starvation. Thus, we hypothesized that bmm and Lsd2 may play a role in sleep regulation. Indeed, bmm mutant flies display a large homeostatic response following sleep deprivation. In contrast, Lsd2 mutant flies, which phenocopy aspects of starvation as measured by low triglyceride stores, do not exhibit a homeostatic response following sleep loss. Importantly, Lsd2 mutant flies are not learning impaired after sleep deprivation. These results provide the first genetic evidence, to our knowledge, that lipid metabolism plays an important role in regulating the homeostatic response and can protect against neuronal impairments induced by prolonged waking.
It is well established in humans that sleep deficits lead to adverse outcomes, including cognitive impairments and an increased risk for obesity. Given the relationship between sleep and lipid stores, we hypothesized that metabolic pathways play a role in sleep regulation and contribute to deficits induced by sleep loss. Since starvation has a large impact on metabolic pathways and is an environmental condition that is encountered by animals living in the wild, we examined its effects on sleep in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Interestingly, when flies are starved they display an immediate increase in waking. However, in contrast to sleep deprivation, waking induced by starvation does not result in increased sleepiness or impairments in short-term memory. To identify the mechanisms underlying these processes, we evaluated mutants for genes that have been shown to alter an animal's response to starvation. Interestingly, brummer mutants, which are fat, show an exaggerated response to sleep loss. In contrast, mutants for Lipid storage droplet 2 are lean and are able to stay awake without becoming sleepy or showing signs of cognitive impairment. These results indicate that while sleep loss can alter lipids, lipid enzymes may, in turn, play a role in regulating sleep and influence the response to sleep deprivation.