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Artificial light-dark cycles expose circadian clocks at odds with each other

began drifting into "night" hours, it turned out that both genes were active at the same time, Per1 in roughly the top half of the nucleus and Bmal1 in roughly the bottom half. That means the top half of the brain's main circadian clock can show a cycle of nearly 25 hours, which is normal for a rat, while the bottom half adjusts according to external signals such as light and dark.

The work is detailed in a paper published earlier this month in the journal Current Biology. Besides de la Iglesia, authors are William Schwartz of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Trinitat Cambras and Antoni Dez-Noguera, both of the University of Barcelona in Spain.

The work adds to a growing understanding that the body contains a complex network of oscillators that regulate the body's rhythms, including peripheral, or "slave," oscillators in organs such as the liver and lungs. In turn, such research could eventually lead to a cure for jet lag, or offer help for day-shift workers switching to a midnight schedule, when it can take several days of the new routine before the body stops exerting a strong urge to sleep, de la Iglesia said.

"Many of the people employed on shift work are internally desynchronized. They have a rest-activity cycle that is out of synch with the rest of their cycle, and some can't cope with this," he said. "The same thing happens to pilots who are constantly travelling across time zones."

There has been previous evidence that human rhythms can be thrown off by external cues, de la Iglesia said. For instance, people in isolation perhaps spelunkers spending two weeks inside a dark cave typically believe they have been isolated for a much shorter time than they really have been. That's because, lacking the usual time cues, the body's internal clocks start cycling at different paces, one running with the normal human period and one with a much longer period that makes 33 hours feel like one day.

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Contact: Vince Stricherz
vinces@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
12-May-2004


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