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.

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Researchers illustrate how muscle growth inhibitor is activated, could aid in treating ALS

January 19, 2018
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are part of an international team that has identified how the inactive or latent form of GDF8, a signaling protein also known as myostatin responsible for ...

Bioengineered soft microfibers improve T-cell production

January 18, 2018
T cells play a key role in the body's immune response against pathogens. As a new class of therapeutic approaches, T cells are being harnessed to fight cancer, promising more precise, longer-lasting mitigation than traditional, ...

Weight flux alters molecular profile, study finds

January 17, 2018
The human body undergoes dramatic changes during even short periods of weight gain and loss, according to a study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Secrets of longevity protein revealed in new study

January 17, 2018
Named after the Greek goddess who spun the thread of life, Klotho proteins play an important role in the regulation of longevity and metabolism. In a recent Yale-led study, researchers revealed the three-dimensional structure ...

The HLF gene protects blood stem cells by maintaining them in a resting state

January 17, 2018
The HLF gene is necessary for maintaining blood stem cells in a resting state, which is crucial for ensuring normal blood production. This has been shown by a new research study from Lund University in Sweden published in ...

Magnetically applied MicroRNAs could one day help relieve constipation

January 17, 2018
Constipation is an underestimated and debilitating medical issue related to the opioid epidemic. As a growing concern, researchers look to new tools to help patients with this side effect of opioid use and aging.

0 comments

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.