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Concept: Circadian rhythm


The sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythmicity both contribute to brain function, but whether this contribution differs between men and women and how it varies across cognitive domains and subjective dimensions has not been established. We examined the circadian and sleep-wake-dependent regulation of cognition in 16 men and 18 women in a forced desynchrony protocol and quantified the separate contributions of circadian phase, prior sleep, and elapsed time awake on cognition and sleep. The largest circadian effects were observed for reported sleepiness, mood, and reported effort; the effects on working memory and temporal processing were smaller. Although these effects were seen in both men and women, there were quantitative differences. The amplitude of the circadian modulation was larger in women in 11 of 39 performance measures so that their performance was more impaired in the early morning hours. Principal components analysis of the performance measures yielded three factors, accuracy, effort, and speed, which reflect core performance characteristics in a range of cognitive tasks and therefore are likely to be important for everyday performance. The largest circadian modulation was observed for effort, whereas accuracy exhibited the largest sex difference in circadian modulation. The sex differences in the circadian modulation of cognition could not be explained by sex differences in the circadian amplitude of plasma melatonin and electroencephalographic slow-wave activity. These data establish the impact of circadian rhythmicity and sex on waking cognition and have implications for understanding the regulation of brain function, cognition, and affect in shift-work, jetlag, and aging.

Concepts: Psychology, Male, Gender, Sleep, Cognition, Circadian rhythm, Jet lag, Melatonin


Circadian organization of the mammalian transcriptome is achieved by rhythmic recruitment of key modifiers of chromatin structure and transcriptional and translational processes. These rhythmic processes, together with posttranslational modification, constitute circadian oscillators in the brain and peripheral tissues, which drive rhythms in physiology and behavior, including the sleep-wake cycle. In humans, sleep is normally timed to occur during the biological night, when body temperature is low and melatonin is synthesized. Desynchrony of sleep-wake timing and other circadian rhythms, such as occurs in shift work and jet lag, is associated with disruption of rhythmicity in physiology and endocrinology. However, to what extent mistimed sleep affects the molecular regulators of circadian rhythmicity remains to be established. Here, we show that mistimed sleep leads to a reduction of rhythmic transcripts in the human blood transcriptome from 6.4% at baseline to 1.0% during forced desynchrony of sleep and centrally driven circadian rhythms. Transcripts affected are key regulators of gene expression, including those associated with chromatin modification (methylases and acetylases), transcription (RNA polymerase II), translation (ribosomal proteins, initiation, and elongation factors), temperature-regulated transcription (cold inducible RNA-binding proteins), and core clock genes including CLOCK and ARNTL (BMAL1). We also estimated the separate contribution of sleep and circadian rhythmicity and found that the sleep-wake cycle coordinates the timing of transcription and translation in particular. The data show that mistimed sleep affects molecular processes at the core of circadian rhythm generation and imply that appropriate timing of sleep contributes significantly to the overall temporal organization of the human transcriptome.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Transcription, RNA, Circadian rhythm


Insufficient sleep and circadian rhythm disruption are associated with negative health outcomes, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive impairment, but the mechanisms involved remain largely unexplored. Twenty-six participants were exposed to 1 wk of insufficient sleep (sleep-restriction condition 5.70 h, SEM = 0.03 sleep per 24 h) and 1 wk of sufficient sleep (control condition 8.50 h sleep, SEM = 0.11). Immediately following each condition, 10 whole-blood RNA samples were collected from each participant, while controlling for the effects of light, activity, and food, during a period of total sleep deprivation. Transcriptome analysis revealed that 711 genes were up- or down-regulated by insufficient sleep. Insufficient sleep also reduced the number of genes with a circadian expression profile from 1,855 to 1,481, reduced the circadian amplitude of these genes, and led to an increase in the number of genes that responded to subsequent total sleep deprivation from 122 to 856. Genes affected by insufficient sleep were associated with circadian rhythms (PER1, PER2, PER3, CRY2, CLOCK, NR1D1, NR1D2, RORA, DEC1, CSNK1E), sleep homeostasis (IL6, STAT3, KCNV2, CAMK2D), oxidative stress (PRDX2, PRDX5), and metabolism (SLC2A3, SLC2A5, GHRL, ABCA1). Biological processes affected included chromatin modification, gene-expression regulation, macromolecular metabolism, and inflammatory, immune and stress responses. Thus, insufficient sleep affects the human blood transcriptome, disrupts its circadian regulation, and intensifies the effects of acute total sleep deprivation. The identified biological processes may be involved with the negative effects of sleep loss on health, and highlight the interrelatedness of sleep homeostasis, circadian rhythmicity, and metabolism.

Concepts: Gene, Gene expression, Organism, Sleep, Sleep deprivation, Sleep disorder, Circadian rhythm, Chronotype


Sudden cardiac death exhibits diurnal variation in both acquired and hereditary forms of heart disease, but the molecular basis of this variation is unknown. A common mechanism that underlies susceptibility to ventricular arrhythmias is abnormalities in the duration (for example, short or long QT syndromes and heart failure) or pattern (for example, Brugada’s syndrome) of myocardial repolarization. Here we provide molecular evidence that links circadian rhythms to vulnerability in ventricular arrhythmias in mice. Specifically, we show that cardiac ion-channel expression and QT-interval duration (an index of myocardial repolarization) exhibit endogenous circadian rhythmicity under the control of a clock-dependent oscillator, krüppel-like factor 15 (Klf15). Klf15 transcriptionally controls rhythmic expression of Kv channel-interacting protein 2 (KChIP2), a critical subunit required for generating the transient outward potassium current. Deficiency or excess of Klf15 causes loss of rhythmic QT variation, abnormal repolarization and enhanced susceptibility to ventricular arrhythmias. These findings identify circadian transcription of ion channels as a mechanism for cardiac arrhythmogenesis.

Concepts: Cardiology, Heart, Sleep, Cardiac arrest, Cardiac electrophysiology, Long QT syndrome, Circadian rhythm, Sudden cardiac death


Traditional screen time (e.g. TV and videogaming) has been linked to sleep problems and poorer developmental outcomes in children. With the advent of portable touchscreen devices, this association may be extending down in age to disrupt the sleep of infants and toddlers, an age when sleep is essential for cognitive development. However, this association has not been demonstrated empirically. This study aims to examine whether frequency of touchscreen use is associated with sleep in infants and toddlers between 6 and 36 months of age. An online survey was administered to 715 parents reporting on child media use (daily exposure to TV and use of touchscreens), sleep patterns (night-time and daytime sleep duration, sleep onset - time to fall asleep, and frequencies of night awakenings). Structural equation models controlling for age, sex, TV exposure and maternal education indicated a significant association between touchscreen use and night-time sleep, daytime sleep and sleep onset. No significant effect was observed for the number of night awakenings. To our knowledge, this is the first report linking the use of touchscreen with sleep problems in infants and toddlers. Future longitudinal studies are needed to clarify the direction of effects and the mechanisms underlying these associations using detailed sleep tracking.

Concepts: Infant, Sleep, Sleep disorder, Circadian rhythm, Narcolepsy, Structural equation modeling, Sleep hygiene


There is strong diurnal variation in the symptoms and severity of chronic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, disruption of the circadian clock is an aggravating factor associated with a range of human inflammatory diseases. To investigate mechanistic links between the biological clock and pathways underlying inflammatory arthritis, mice were administered collagen (or saline as a control) to induce arthritis. The treatment provoked an inflammatory response within the limbs, which showed robust daily variation in paw swelling and inflammatory cytokine expression. Inflammatory markers were significantly repressed during the dark phase. Further work demonstrated an active molecular clock within the inflamed limbs and highlighted the resident inflammatory cells, fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLSs), as a potential source of the rhythmic inflammatory signal. Exposure of mice to constant light disrupted the clock in peripheral tissues, causing loss of the nighttime repression of local inflammation. Finally, the results show that the core clock proteins CRYPTOCHROMES 1 and 2 repressed inflammation within the FLSs, and provide novel evidence that a CRYPTOCHROME activator has anti-inflammatory properties in human cells. We conclude that under chronic inflammatory conditions, the clock actively represses inflammatory pathways during the dark phase. This interaction has exciting potential as a therapeutic avenue for treatment of inflammatory disease.-Hand, L. E., Hopwood, T. W., Dickson, S. H., Walker, A. L., Loudon, A. S. I., Ray D. W., Bechtold, D. A., Gibbs, J. E. The circadian clock regulates inflammatory arthritis.

Concepts: Inflammation, Interleukin 1, Asthma, Rheumatoid arthritis, Vasculitis, Anti-inflammatory, Circadian rhythm, C-reactive protein


Disturbances in the sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythms are common symptoms of Alzheimer Disease (AD), and they have generally been considered as late consequences of the neurodegenerative processes. Recent evidence demonstrates that sleep-wake and circadian disruption often occur early in the course of the disease and may even precede the development of cognitive symptoms. Furthermore, the sleep-wake cycle appears to regulate levels of the pathogenic amyloid-beta peptide in the brain, and manipulating sleep can influence AD-related pathology in mouse models via multiple mechanisms. Finally, the circadian clock system, which controls the sleep-wake cycle and other diurnal oscillations in mice and humans, may also have a role in the neurodegenerative process. In this review, we examine the current literature related to the mechanisms by which sleep and circadian rhythms might impact AD pathogenesis, and we discuss potential therapeutic strategies targeting these systems for the prevention of AD.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Sleep, Circadian rhythm, Circadian rhythms, Chronotype, Diurnality, Diurnal cycle


Evidence suggests that light and circadian rhythms profoundly influence the physiologic capacity with which an organism responds to stress. However, the ramifications of light spectrum on the course of critical illness remain to be determined. Here, we show that acute exposure to bright blue spectrum light reduces organ injury by comparison with bright red spectrum or ambient white fluorescent light in two murine models of sterile insult: warm liver ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) and unilateral renal I/R. Exposure to bright blue light before I/R reduced hepatocellular injury and necrosis and reduced acute kidney injury and necrosis. In both models, blue light reduced neutrophil influx, as evidenced by reduced myeloperoxidase (MPO) within each organ, and reduced the release of high-mobility group box 1 (HMGB1), a neutrophil chemotactant and key mediator in the pathogenesis of I/R injury. The protective mechanism appeared to involve an optic pathway and was mediated, in part, by a sympathetic (β3 adrenergic) pathway that functioned independent of significant alterations in melatonin or corticosterone concentrations to regulate neutrophil recruitment. These data suggest that modifying the spectrum of light may offer therapeutic utility in sterile forms of cellular injury.

Concepts: Biology, Light, Photoreceptor cell, Blue, Red, Circadian rhythm, Spectrum, Visible spectrum


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


The circadian regulatory network is organized in a hierarchical fashion, with a central oscillator in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) orchestrating circadian oscillations in peripheral tissues. The nature of the relationship between central and peripheral oscillators, however, is poorly understood. We used the tetOFF expression system to specifically restore Clock function in the brains of Clock(Δ19) mice, which have compromised circadian clocks. Rescued mice showed normal locomotor rhythms in constant darkness, with activity period lengths approximating wildtype controls. We used microarray analysis to assess whether brain-specific rescue of circadian rhythmicity was sufficient to restore circadian transcriptional output in the liver. Compared to Clock mutants, Clock-rescue mice showed significantly larger numbers of cycling transcripts with appropriate phase and period lengths, including many components of the core circadian oscillator. This indicates that the SCN oscillator overcomes local circadian defects and signals directly to the molecular clock. Interestingly, the vast majority of core clock genes in liver were responsive to Clock expression in the SCN, suggesting that core clock genes in peripheral tissues are intrinsically sensitive to SCN cues. Nevertheless, most circadian output in the liver was absent or severely low-amplitude in Clock-rescue animals, demonstrating that the majority of peripheral transcriptional rhythms depend on a fully functional local circadian oscillator. We identified several new system-driven rhythmic genes in the liver, including Alas1 and Mfsd2. Finally, we show that 12-hour transcriptional rhythms (i.e., circadian “harmonics”) are disrupted by Clock loss-of-function. Brain-specific rescue of Clock converted 12-hour rhythms into 24-hour rhythms, suggesting that signaling via the central circadian oscillator is required to generate one of the two daily peaks of expression. Based on these data, we conclude that 12-hour rhythms are driven by interactions between central and peripheral circadian oscillators.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Oscillation, Circadian rhythm, Period, Periodic function, CLOCK