What is the role of genetics in the pathophysiology of insomnia?

Updated: Sep 11, 2018
  • Author: Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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A number of individual genes that are involved in sleep and wakefulness have been isolated. However, current evidence suggests that a network of genes, rather than a single gene or a subset of genes, is responsible for sleep. The neurotransmitters and signaling pathways that serve wakefulness also serve other functions. [32]

Studies indicate differential genetic susceptibility to exogenous influences such as caffeine, light, and stress. For example, one study found that differences in the adenosine 2A receptor gene (ADORA2) determine differential sensitivity to caffeine’s effect on sleep. [33] The ADORA2A 1083T>C genotype determined how closely the caffeine-induced changes in brain electrical activity (ie, increased beta activity) during sleep resembled the alterations observed in patients with insomnia.

In addition, circadian clock genes have been identified that regulate the circadian rhythm. [34] Such genes include CLOCK and Per2. A mutation or functional polymorphism in Per2 can lead to circadian rhythm disorders, such as advanced sleep phase syndrome (sleep and morning awakening occur earlier than normal) and delayed sleep phase syndrome (sleep and morning awakening are delayed).

A missense mutation has been found in the gene encoding the GABAA beta 3 subunit in a patient with chronic insomnia. [35] Polymorphisms in the serotonin receptor transporter gene may modulate the ability of an individual to handle stress or may confer susceptibility to depression. In depression, serotonin is an important neurotransmitter for arousal mechanisms. Furthermore, antagonism of the serotonin 5-HT2 receptor promotes slow-wave sleep.


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