The clock watcher: Circadian rhythms research is shedding light on the causes of disease and aging

May 29, 2009 by Tom Vasich
Research on the body clock may lead to new approaches to restore good health and limit the effects of aging.

( -- Embedded in our genes is a "clock" that regulates when we sleep, when we are awake and when we eat. This human clock manages what are known as circadian rhythms, 24-hour biological cycles that adapt our bodies to the light-dark pattern of day and night.

These rhythms explain why we sleep at night and are more active during the day. They are behind our need to eat multiple meals a day. And, according to Paolo Sassone-Corsi, UCI Distinguished Professor and chair of pharmacology, they are giving us new clues about , metabolic disorders and aging.

"Circadian rhythms are an ancient biological regulator system based on the light-dark cycle, which is as old as our planet," Sassone-Corsi says. "We've learned that up to 15 percent of our genes are regulated by these rhythms and that disruption of them can profoundly influence human health - causing obesity, diabetes, insomnia, depression, heart disease and cancer."

Although recognition of circadian rhythms dates back to the days of Alexander the Great, scientific study of them is barely a century old. And Sassone-Corsi is perhaps the world's leading expert in this field.

Over the past 15 years, he has found the key molecular switches that turn circadian rhythms off and on. Since joining the UCI faculty in 2006, Sassone-Corsi has published research studies in Nature, Science and Cell, detailing how circadian-rhythm proteins work with other cellular proteins to modulate cell aging, metabolism, and heart, brain and digestive functions.

These findings have profound implications for future drug development aimed at curbing cell dysfunction and death, thereby helping solve such major medical problems as cancer and diabetes.

Just as importantly, Sassone-Corsi says, these findings reveal that good health depends on staying in balance with our natural rhythms.

People who disrupt their body clock - night workers who sleep during the day or those who eat meals irregularly, for example - have been found to be much more prone to eating disorders and metabolic diseases of the liver, heart and kidneys.

"When this balance is upset, normal cellular function can be disrupted," Sassone-Corsi says. "By having an unhealthy lifestyle, we impose on our body clock a number of stresses that lead to illness."

"It is important to continue learning more about the processes of ," he adds. "With increased knowledge, we can begin to develop interventions - both behavioral and pharmaceutical - that can help maintain and restore good human health."

Provided by University of California, Irvine

Explore further: Dental pulp cell transplants help regenerate peripheral nerves

Related Stories

Body clock regulates metabolism

Mar 12, 2009

( -- UC Irvine researchers have discovered that circadian rhythms - our own body clock - regulate energy levels in cells. The findings have far-reaching implications, from providing greater insights ...

Circadian rhythm-metabolism link discovered

Jul 24, 2008

UC Irvine researchers have found a molecular link between circadian rhythms – our own body clock – and metabolism. The discovery reveals new possibilities for the treatment of diabetes, obesity and other ...

Molecular partnership controls daily rhythms, body metabolism

Nov 26, 2008

A research team led by Mitchell Lazar, MD, PhD, Director of the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has discovered a key molecular partnership that coordinates ...

Circadian clock controls plant growth hormone

Aug 13, 2007

The plant growth hormone auxin is controlled by circadian rhythms within the plant, UC Davis researchers have found. The discovery explains how plants can time their growth to take advantage of resources such ...

Recommended for you

Organ transplant rejection may not be permanent

5 hours ago

Rejection of transplanted organs in hosts that were previously tolerant may not be permanent, report scientists from the University of Chicago. Using a mouse model of cardiac transplantation, they found that immune tolerance ...

Researchers find key mechanism that causes neuropathic pain

8 hours ago

Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have identified a key mechanism in neuropathic pain. The discovery could eventually benefit millions of patients with chronic pain from trauma, diabetes, shingles, multiple ...

Deep sea light shines on drug delivery potential

8 hours ago

A naturally occurring bioluminescent protein found in deep sea shrimp—which helps the crustacean spit a glowing cloud at predators—has been touted as a game-changer in terms of monitoring the way drugs ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.