How the brain's daily clock controls mood: A new project

April 24th, 2012
A math professor at the University of Michigan will lead an international, $1 million project examining the links between bipolar disorder and abnormalities in the circadian, or daily, rhythms of a mammal's internal clock.

In humans, this grain-of-rice-sized timepiece is a cluster of 20,000 neurons right behind the eyes. It's called the suprachiasmatic nucleas (SCN) of the brain's hypothalamus, and it is responsible for keeping our bodies in synch with our planet's 24-hour day.

Scientists believe it's off kilter in patients with bipolar disorder. Some of the genes implicated in the disease are the same ones that regulate the biological clock. The common treatment drug lithium is known to change the period of that clock, and when manic patients are forced to stay on a 24-hour schedule, many experience a reprieve from the episode, said principal investigator Daniel Forger, an associate professor in the U-M Department of Mathematics.

Exactly how the brain's clock controls mood remains a mystery, though. This new project aims to change that through complex mathematical modeling and experiments involving mice.

"We're going to continuously monitor the state of the animals' internal clock. We'll watch it tick, use mathematics to understand its function and test how it controls mood," Forger said.

The researchers will examine the brains of depressed and normal mice and look for abnormal electrical activity. The researchers aim to determine what state of the clock region corresponds with different moods in the animals.

"We're going to learn an awful lot about the circadian clock, which could also, in addition to depression, play a role in Alzheimer's, cancer and heart attacks," Forger said.

Provided by University of Michigan

This Phys.org Science News Wire page contains a press release issued by an organization mentioned above and is provided to you “as is” with little or no review from Phys.Org staff.

More news stories

The cost of staying cool when incomes heat up

The continual increase in global incomes means people are living more comfortably, including having the ability to afford air conditioning. Staying cool is good but there's a wealth of fallout. The demand ...

Neurons constantly rewrite their DNA

Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered that neurons are risk takers: They use minor "DNA surgeries" to toggle their activity levels all day, every day. Since these activity levels are important in learning, ...

Bizarre 'platypus' dinosaur discovered

Although closely related to the notorious carnivore Tyrannosaurus rex, a new lineage of dinosaur discovered in Chile is proving to be an evolutionary jigsaw puzzle, as it preferred to graze upon plants.

Two-dimensional semiconductor comes clean

In 2013 James Hone, Wang Fong-Jen Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia Engineering, and colleagues at Columbia demonstrated that they could dramatically improve the performance of graphene—highly ...