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Concept: Chronobiology


Consistent daily rhythms are important to healthy aging according to studies linking disrupted circadian rhythms with negative health impacts. We studied the effects of age and exercise on baseline circadian rhythms and on the circadian system’s ability to respond to the perturbation induced by an 8 h advance of the light:dark (LD) cycle as a test of the system’s robustness. Mice (male, mPer2(luc)/C57BL/6) were studied at one of two ages: 3.5 months (n = 39) and >18 months (n = 72). We examined activity records of these mice under entrained and shifted conditions as well as mPER2::LUC measures ex vivo to assess circadian function in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) and important target organs. Age was associated with reduced running wheel use, fragmentation of activity, and slowed resetting in both behavioral and molecular measures. Furthermore, we observed that for aged mice, the presence of a running wheel altered the amplitude of the spontaneous firing rate rhythm in the SCN in vitro. Following a shift of the LD cycle, both young and aged mice showed a change in rhythmicity properties of the mPER2::LUC oscillation of the SCN in vitro, and aged mice exhibited longer lasting internal desynchrony. Access to a running wheel alleviated some age-related changes in the circadian system. In an additional experiment, we replicated the effect of the running wheel, comparing behavioral and in vitro results from aged mice housed with or without a running wheel (>21 months, n = 8 per group, all examined 4 days after the shift). The impact of voluntary exercise on circadian rhythm properties in an aged animal is a novel finding and has implications for the health of older people living with environmentally induced circadian disruption.

Concepts: Gerontology, Ageing, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms


Seasonal changes in mammalian physiology and behavior are proximately controlled by the annual variation in day length. Long summer and short winter day lengths markedly alter the amplitude of endogenous circadian rhythms and may affect ultradian oscillations, but the threshold photoperiods for inducing these changes are not known. We assessed the effects of short and intermediate day lengths and changes in reproductive physiology on circadian and ultradian rhythms of locomotor activity in Siberian hamsters. Males were maintained in a long photoperiod from birth (15 h light/day; 15 L) and transferred in adulthood to 1 of 7 experimental photoperiods ranging from 14 L to 9 L. Decreases in circadian rhythm (CR) robustness, mesor and amplitude were evident in photoperiods ≤14 L, as were delays in the timing of CR acrophase and expansion of nocturnal activity duration. Nocturnal ultradian rhythms (URs) were comparably prevalent in all day lengths, but 15 L markedly inhibited the expression of light-phase URs. The period (τ'), amplitude and complexity of URs increased in day lengths ≤13 L. Among hamsters that failed to undergo gonadal regression in short day lengths (nonresponders), τ' of the dark-phase UR was longer than in photoresponsive hamsters; in 13 L the incidence and amplitude of light-phase URs were greater in hamsters that did not undergo testicular regression. Day lengths as long as 14 L were sufficient to trigger changes in the waveform of CRs without affecting UR waveform. The transition from a long- to a short-day ultradian phenotype occurred for most UR components at day lengths of 12 L-13 L, thereby establishing different thresholds for CR and UR responses to day length. At the UR-threshold photoperiod of 13 L, differences in gonadal status were largely without effect on most UR parameters.

Concepts: Sleep, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Photoperiodism, Cryptochrome, Ultradian


The association of irregular sleep schedules with circadian timing and academic performance has not been systematically examined. We studied 61 undergraduates for 30 days using sleep diaries, and quantified sleep regularity using a novel metric, the sleep regularity index (SRI). In the most and least regular quintiles, circadian phase and light exposure were assessed using salivary dim-light melatonin onset (DLMO) and wrist-worn photometry, respectively. DLMO occurred later (00:08 ± 1:54 vs. 21:32 ± 1:48; p < 0.003); the daily sleep propensity rhythm peaked later (06:33 ± 0:19 vs. 04:45 ± 0:11; p < 0.005); and light rhythms had lower amplitude (102 ± 19 lux vs. 179 ± 29 lux; p < 0.005) in Irregular compared to Regular sleepers. A mathematical model of the circadian pacemaker and its response to light was used to demonstrate that Irregular vs. Regular group differences in circadian timing were likely primarily due to their different patterns of light exposure. A positive correlation (r = 0.37; p < 0.004) between academic performance and SRI was observed. These findings show that irregular sleep and light exposure patterns in college students are associated with delayed circadian rhythms and lower academic performance. Moreover, the modeling results reveal that light-based interventions may be therapeutically effective in improving sleep regularity in this population.

Concepts: Sleep, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Delayed sleep phase syndrome, Chronotype, Melatonin, Phase response curve


Inactivation is an intrinsic property of several voltage-dependent ion channels, closing the conduction pathway during membrane depolarization and dynamically regulating neuronal activity. BK K(+) channels undergo N-type inactivation via their β2 subunit, but the physiological significance is not clear. Here, we report that inactivating BK currents predominate during the day in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the brain’s intrinsic clock circuit, reducing steady-state current levels. At night inactivation is diminished, resulting in larger BK currents. Loss of β2 eliminates inactivation, abolishing the diurnal variation in both BK current magnitude and SCN firing, and disrupting behavioural rhythmicity. Selective restoration of inactivation via the β2 N-terminal ‘ball-and-chain’ domain rescues BK current levels and firing rate, unexpectedly contributing to the subthreshold membrane properties that shift SCN neurons into the daytime ‘upstate’. Our study reveals the clock employs inactivation gating as a biophysical switch to set the diurnal variation in suprachiasmatic nucleus excitability that underlies circadian rhythm.

Concepts: Nervous system, Hypothalamus, Sleep, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Chronotype, Melatonin


Circadian rhythms enable organisms to synchronise the processes underpinning survival and reproduction to anticipate daily changes in the external environment. Recent work shows that daily (circadian) rhythms also enable parasites to maximise fitness in the context of ecological interactions with their hosts. Because parasite rhythms matter for their fitness, understanding how they are regulated could lead to innovative ways to reduce the severity and spread of diseases. Here, we examine how host circadian rhythms influence rhythms in the asexual replication of malaria parasites. Asexual replication is responsible for the severity of malaria and fuels transmission of the disease, yet, how parasite rhythms are driven remains a mystery. We perturbed feeding rhythms of hosts by 12 hours (i.e. diurnal feeding in nocturnal mice) to desynchronise the host’s peripheral oscillators from the central, light-entrained oscillator in the brain and their rhythmic outputs. We demonstrate that the rhythms of rodent malaria parasites in day-fed hosts become inverted relative to the rhythms of parasites in night-fed hosts. Our results reveal that the host’s peripheral rhythms (associated with the timing of feeding and metabolism), but not rhythms driven by the central, light-entrained circadian oscillator in the brain, determine the timing (phase) of parasite rhythms. Further investigation reveals that parasite rhythms correlate closely with blood glucose rhythms. In addition, we show that parasite rhythms resynchronise to the altered host feeding rhythms when food availability is shifted, which is not mediated through rhythms in the host immune system. Our observations suggest that parasites actively control their developmental rhythms. Finally, counter to expectation, the severity of disease symptoms expressed by hosts was not affected by desynchronisation of their central and peripheral rhythms. Our study at the intersection of disease ecology and chronobiology opens up a new arena for studying host-parasite-vector coevolution and has broad implications for applied bioscience.

Concepts: Immune system, Malaria, Oscillation, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Diurnality, Plasmodium berghei


Circadian rhythms are deeply rooted in the biology of virtually all organisms. The pervasive use of artificial lighting in modern society disrupts circadian rhythms and can be detrimental to our health. To investigate the relationship between disrupting circadian rhythmicity and disease, we exposed mice to continuous light (LL) for 24 weeks and measured several major health parameters. Long-term neuronal recordings revealed that 24 weeks of LL reduced rhythmicity in the central circadian pacemaker of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) by 70%. Strikingly, LL exposure also reduced skeletal muscle function (forelimb grip strength, wire hanging duration, and grid hanging duration), caused trabecular bone deterioration, and induced a transient pro-inflammatory state. After the mice were returned to a standard light-dark cycle, the SCN neurons rapidly recovered their normal high-amplitude rhythm, and the aforementioned health parameters returned to normal. These findings strongly suggest that a disrupted circadian rhythm reversibly induces detrimental effects on multiple biological processes.

Concepts: Hypothalamus, Biology, Rhythm, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms


Disrupted circadian rhythms and reduced sleep duration are associated with several human diseases, particularly obesity and type 2 diabetes, but until recently, little was known about the genetic factors influencing these heritable traits. We performed genome-wide association studies of self-reported chronotype (morning/evening person) and self-reported sleep duration in 128,266 white British individuals from the UK Biobank study. Sixteen variants were associated with chronotype (P<5x10-8), including variants near the known circadian rhythm genes RGS16 (1.21 odds of morningness, 95% CI [1.15, 1.27], P = 3x10-12) and PER2 (1.09 odds of morningness, 95% CI [1.06, 1.12], P = 4x10-10). The PER2 signal has previously been associated with iris function. We sought replication using self-reported data from 89,283 23andMe participants; thirteen of the chronotype signals remained associated at P<5x10-8 on meta-analysis and eleven of these reached P<0.05 in the same direction in the 23andMe study. We also replicated 9 additional variants identified when the 23andMe study was used as a discovery GWAS of chronotype (all P<0.05 and meta-analysis P<5x10-8). For sleep duration, we replicated one known signal in PAX8 (2.6 minutes per allele, 95% CI [1.9, 3.2], P = 5.7x10-16) and identified and replicated two novel associations at VRK2 (2.0 minutes per allele, 95% CI [1.3, 2.7], P = 1.2x10-9; and 1.6 minutes per allele, 95% CI [1.1, 2.2], P = 7.6x10-9). Although we found genetic correlation between chronotype and BMI (rG = 0.056, P = 0.05); undersleeping and BMI (rG = 0.147, P = 1x10-5) and oversleeping and BMI (rG = 0.097, P = 0.04), Mendelian Randomisation analyses, with limited power, provided no consistent evidence of causal associations between BMI or type 2 diabetes and chronotype or sleep duration. Our study brings the total number of loci associated with chronotype to 22 and with sleep duration to three, and provides new insights into the biology of sleep and circadian rhythms in humans.

Concepts: Genetics, Sleep, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Chronotype, Circadian rhythm sleep disorder, Melatonin


An ability to predict forthcoming changes in environmental conditions and get prepared for them in advance is crucial for the survival and reproduction of organisms living in a seasonally changing environment. We have studied the possible involvement of circadian oscillator(s) in the photoperiodic timer controlling seasonal responses by tracing Drosophila montana females' diapause induction in constant darkness and in a classical Nanda-Hamner experiment. Nearly all females developed ovaries in continuous darkness, which shows the direct development to be their default developmental pathway in the absence of photoperiods. In Nanda-Hamner experiment the females' diapause incidence was close to zero in light:dark cycle 12:4 (photoperiod 16 h) and increased to nearly 100% in 12:8 and 12:12 (photoperiods 20 and 24 h). In longer photoperiods (28-72 h) the females' diapause percentages decreased gradually along with an increase in the length of the dark period, showing no peaks of high diapause incidence in the multiples of 24 h. These findings suggest that the photoperiodic timer of D. montana is based on heavily damping circadian oscillator(s) or that it lacks strong oscillators. Damping of the photoperiodic timer under prolonged nights and constant darkness fits well with our earlier finding that these flies lose their locomotor activity rhythm in constant darkness, and suggests that the mechanisms underlying females' photoperiodic diapause response and their free-running locomotor activity rhythm may be partly based on same oscillators.

Concepts: Reproduction, Organism, Insect, Developmental biology, Circadian rhythm, Period, Chronobiology, Photoperiodism


The circannual pupation rhythm of Anthrenus verbasci is entrained to an environmental cycle by changes in photoperiod. Exposure of larvae reared under short-day conditions to long days induced a clear phase delay of the circannual rhythm. There was no notable difference in the initial phase or period of the circannual rhythm among four geographically distinct populations of A. verbasci in Japan: Takanabe (32.1°N), Osaka (34.7°N), Sendai (38.3°N), and Sapporo (43.1°N) populations. The range of photoperiodic changes effective for phase delay in the circannual pupation rhythm was compared among the four populations. Although larvae did not show a typical threshold response, but responded quantitatively to the photophase duration in intermediate conditions, the critical daylengths were calculated as those under which the pupation was delayed by 50%: 12.8 h in the Takanabe population, 13.2 h in the Osaka population, and 13.6 h in the Sendai and Sapporo populations. Thus, the critical daylength for entrainment of the circannual rhythm in A. verbasci was correlated to the habitat latitude, but the differences among the populations were much smaller than those reported in photoperiodism for induction of diapause in various insects. Consequently, the difference in the pupation time among the four geographic populations was very small under the natural photoperiod in Osaka at 20°C, and absent under the natural photoperiod and temperature in Osaka. These results suggest that A. verbasci survives and successfully produces the next generation in different geographic regions without changing the parameters of the circannual rhythm.

Concepts: Insect, Demography, Beetle, Chronobiology, Photoperiodism, Dermestidae, Anthrenus, Varied carpet beetle


A temperature independent period and temperature entrainment are two defining features of circadian oscillators. A default model of distributed temperature compensation satisfies these basic facts yet is not easily reconciled with other properties of circadian clocks, such as many mutants with altered but temperature compensated periods. The default model also suggests that the shape of the circadian limit cycle and the associated phase response curves (PRC) will vary since the average concentrations of clock proteins change with temperature. We propose an alternative class of models where the twin properties of a fixed period and entrainment are structural and arise from an underlying adaptive system that buffers temperature changes. These models are distinguished by a PRC whose shape is temperature independent and orbits whose extrema are temperature independent. They are readily evolved by local, hill climbing, optimization of gene networks for a common quality measure of biological clocks, phase anticipation. Interestingly a standard realization of the Goodwin model for temperature compensation displays properties of adaptive rather than distributed temperature compensation.

Concepts: Biology, Circadian rhythm, Period, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Entrainment, Zeitgeber, Phase response curve