Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is one of those frustrating diseases where we know what it does, and how it works, but the underlying root cause is difficult to ascertain. Now, by engineering flies to have the disease, scientists may have revealed the genetic origins of RLS.

One of the theories behind RLS is that it's tied to a variation of the gene BTBD9 — an analogue of which is found in flies, called dBTBD9. When scientists engineered flies to lack this gene, the insects were hit by a version of the syndrome. They moved more, and lost more sleep — one of the key complaints of RLS. Putting the flies on a drug that's used to treat humans with the disease showed a marked improvement.

The study also furthers our understanding of how RLS functions, by controlling dopamine in the brain and the iron balance of cells. While the information from the flies might not hold true for every patient or every form of the disease, it might mean a lot for the treatment of a great many of them. Plus this experiment shows, once again, that the comparatively simple neurophysiology of flies can be used to gain a better understanding of our own.


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