News Briefs: Sleep & Immune System Health; Metformin & Heart Failure; Fraudulent AD Treatment Claims

Sleep’s Relationship to Immune System Health

Researchers in Germany have discovered why sleep can sometimes be the best medicine. Sleep improves the potential ability of some of the body’s immune cells to attach to their targets, according to a new study published Feb. 12 in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. The study helps explain how sleep can fight off an infection. T cells are a type of white blood cell that are critical to the body’s immune response. When T cells recognize a specific target, such as a cell infected with a virus, they activate sticky proteins known as integrins that allow them to attach to their target and, in the case of a virally infected cell, kill it. While much is known about the signals that activate integrins, signals that might dampen the ability of T cells to attach to their targets are less well understood. Researchers found that some molecules, including the hormones adrenaline and prostaglandin, prevented T cells from activating their integrins after recognizing their target. Adrenaline and prostaglandins levels dip while the body is asleep. For the study, researchers compared T cells taken from healthy volunteers while they slept or stayed awake all night. T cells taken from sleeping volunteers showed significantly higher levels of integrin activation than T cells taken from wakeful subjects. According to the authors, the findings show that sleep has the potential to enhance the efficiency of T-cell responses, which is especially relevant in light of the high prevalence of sleep disorders and conditions characterized by impaired sleep, such as depression, chronic stress, shift work, and aging.

Metformin’s Potential Role in Heart Failure Treatment

Researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered that metformin, a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, might also be used to treat heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), a condition that is predicted to affect over 8 percent of people ages 65 or older by 2020. The study, which was published Dec. 19 in the Journal of General Physiology, shows that metformin relaxes a key heart muscle protein called titin, allowing the heart to properly fill with blood before pumping it around the body. Nearly half of all heart failure patients are considered to have HFpEF (also known as diastolic heart failure) in which the heart can properly contract, but because the wall of the left ventricle is stiffer than normal, it fails to fully relax between beats, reducing its capacity to fill with blood. This reduces blood supply to the rest of the body, leading to shortness of breath with exertion and difficulty exercising. HFpEF is more common in women, and other risk factors include hypertension, old age, and obesity. Unlike other forms of heart failure, however, there are currently no drugs available to treat HFpEF. Researchers at the Sarver Heart Center at the University of Arizona investigated whether metformin could be an effective treatment for HFpEF because the drug has been shown to increase left ventricular dilation and lower the rate of heart failure in diabetes patients. The researchers gave metformin to mice with HFpEF-like symptoms and found that the drug reduced left ventricular stiffness, thereby improving the animals’ capacity for exercise. Using it to target titin stiffness presents a unique opportunity for immediate translation to the clinic, according to the researchers. The National Institutes of Health provided funds for the study.

Fraudulent Alzheimer’s Treatment Claims

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued warning letters to companies that are illegally selling more than 58 products, many that are sold as dietary supplements, which are unapproved new drugs and/or misbranded drugs that claim to prevent, treat, or cure Alzheimer’s disease and a number of other serious diseases and health conditions. “Any products making unproven drug claims could mislead consumers and keep them from accessing therapies that are known to help support the symptoms of a disease, or worse as some fraudulent treatments can cause serious or even fatal injuries. Health fraud scams prey on vulnerable populations, waste money, and often delay proper medical care—and we will continue to take action to protect patients and caregivers from misleading, unproven products,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. For information on companies/products warned by the FDA go online to

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