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Biological clock more influenced by temperature than light

Getting over jet lag may be as simple as changing the temperature --your brain temperature, that is.

That's a theory proposed by Erik Herzog, Ph.D. assistant professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Herzog has found that the biological clocks of rats and mice respond directly to temperature changes.

Biological clocks, which drive circadian rhythms, are found in almost every living organism. In mammals, including humans, these clocks are responsible for 24-hour cycles in alertness and hormone levels, for instance. The control panel for these daily rhythms is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), otherwise known as "the brain's Timex." The SCN, located above the roof of the mouth in the hypothalamus, is normally synchronized to local time by light signals carried down the optic nerves. Herzog worked directly with mice SCN cells located in vitro, grown in a dish.

"We found that we can rapidly change the phase of the pacemaker. We can shift its timing to a new time zone," said Herzog. "This paper shows for the first time that we can take control of the clock in a dish. We can tell it what time we want it to think it is."

Herzog's findings were recently published in the Journal of Neurophysiology.. His work was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

The findings have significant future implications. If brain temperature can be controlled, travellers might never have to deal with jet lag again. Shifting to a new time zone might be accomplished with relative ease.

Herzog says that brain temperature is relatively immune to environmental temperature, but can be affected by bursts of physical activity, fever, nursing, or a dose of aspirin or melatonin, a drug already used to lessen the effects of jet lag.

In his study, Herzog first needed to establish that the SCN would function normally over a wide range of constant temperatures. He tested the cells in a range from 2
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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@aismail.wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
14-Jul-2003


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