Circadian rhythms in a nutshell

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Living organisms on this planet have adapted to the daily rotation of the earth on its axis. By means of endogenous circadian clocks that can be synchronized to the daily and seasonal changes in external time cues, most notably light and temperature, life forms anticipate environmental transitions, perform activities at biologically advantageous times during the day, and undergo characteristic seasonal responses. The effects of transmeridian flight and shift work are stark reminders that although modern technologies can create "cities that never sleep" we cannot escape the recalcitrance of endogenous clocks that regulate much of our physiology and behavior. Moreover, malfunctions in the human circadian timing system are implicated in several disorders, including chronic sleep disorders in the elderly, manic-depression, and seasonal affective disorders (SAD or winter depression). Recent progress in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying circadian rhythms has been remarkable. In its most basic form, circadian clocks are comprised of a set of proteins that, by virtue of the design principles involved, generate a self-sustaining transcriptional-translational feedback loop with a free-running period of about 24 h. One or more of the clock components is acutely sensitive to light, resulting in an oscillator that can be synchronized to local time. This review provides an overview of the roles circadian clocks play in nature, how they might have arisen, human health concerns related to clock dysfunction, and mainly focuses on the clockworks found in Drosophila and mice, the two best studied animal model systems for understanding the biochemical and cellular bases of circadian rhythms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-74
Number of pages16
JournalPhysiological Genomics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Genetics


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