Circadian rhythm - news reports

About these topic collections

I’ve been reporting on memory research for over ten years and these topic pages are simply collections of all the news items I have made on a particular topic. They do not pretend to be in any way exhaustive! I cover far too many areas within memory to come anywhere approaching that. What I aim to do is provide breadth, rather than depth. Outside my own area of cognitive psychology, it is difficult to know how much weight to give to any study (I urge you to read my blog post on what constitutes scientific evidence). That (among other reasons) is why my approach in my news reporting is based predominantly on replication and consistency. It's about the aggregate. So here is the aggregate of those reports I have at one point considered of sufficient interest to discuss. If you know of any research you would like to add to the collection, feel free to write about it in a comment (please provide a reference).

A study involving mice lacking a master clock gene called Bmal1 has found that as the mice aged, their brains showed patterns of damage similar to those seen in Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Many of the injuries seemed to be caused by free radicals. Several key antioxidant enzymes, which usually neutralize and help clear free radicals from the brain, have been found to peak in the middle of the day in healthy mice, but not in these mice lacking Bmal1. It may be that, without this daily increase, free radicals remain in the brain longer, causing more damage.

The finding may help explain the connection between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-11/wuso-bc112513.php

[3594] Musiek, E. S., Lim M. M., Yang G., Bauer A. Q., Qi L., Lee Y., et al. (2013).  Circadian clock proteins regulate neuronal redox homeostasis and neurodegeneration. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 123(12), 5389 - 5400.

A study involving genetically engineered fruit flies adds to our understanding of why sleep and bioclock disruptions are common in those with Alzheimer's disease. People with Alzheimer's often have poor biological rhythms — periods of sleep become shorter and more fragmented, resulting in periods of wakefulness at night and snoozing during the day. It has been thought that Alzheimer’s destroys the biological clock, but this new study indicates that the clock is still working — however, it’s being ignored by other parts of the brain.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/uoc-swu022514.php

[3560] Chen, K. - F., Possidente B., Lomas D. A., & Crowther D. C. (2014).  The central molecular clock is robust in the face of behavioural arrhythmia in a Drosophila model of Alzheimer’s disease. Disease Models & Mechanisms. 7(4), 445 - 458.

A mouse study suggests that merely changing meal times could have a significant effect on the levels of triglycerides in the liver. Levels of triglycerides followed a circadian rhythm, with levels peaking about eight hours after sunrise (note that mice are nocturnal). Mice generally eat 20% of their food during the day, and 80% at night. Mice lacking a functional body clock eat constantly during the day. When normal mice were given the same amount of food, but had to eat it only at night, there was a quick and dramatic 50% decrease in overall liver TAG levels.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/wios-tio020514.php

A hamster study indicates that chronic jet lag changes the brain in ways that cause long-lasting memory and learning problems.

Twice a week for four weeks, female hamsters were subjected to six-hour time shifts equivalent to a New York-to-Paris airplane flight. Cognitive tests taken during the last two weeks of jet lag and a month after recovery from it revealed difficulty learning simple tasks that control hamsters achieved easily. Furthermore, the jet-lagged hamsters had only half the number of new neurons in the hippocampus that the control hamsters had.

The findings support earlier research indicating that chronic jet lag impairs memory and learning and reduces the size of the temporal lobe, and points to the loss of brain tissue as being due to reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Although further research is needed to clarify this, indications are that the problem is not so much fewer neurons being created, but fewer new cells maturing into working cells, or perhaps new cells dying prematurely.

Hamsters are excellent subjects for circadian rhythm research because their rhythms are so precise.

A sleep lab study has revealed that traffic noise during sleep produces significantly slower reaction times on a vigilance task in the morning.

It’s not just a matter of quantity; quality of sleep matters too. A study involving 72 adults (average age 40), whose sleep was monitored for 11 consecutive nights, has revealed that reaction times on a morning psychomotor vigilance task was significantly slower after exposure to recorded traffic noise during sleep. The slowing was directly related to the frequency and sound-pressure level of the nightly noise. Traffic noise has been identified as one cause of "environmental sleep disorder," which involves an environmental disturbance that causes a complaint of insomnia or daytime sleepiness. Other common causes include bright light and temperature extremes. The researchers also note that nighttime traffic noise may have even stronger effects on the performance of people who are more susceptible to sleep disturbances. Risk groups include children, shift workers, the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions. White noise, produced by fans, sound machines, and special applications for computers and smart phones, can be used to mask other noise.

Elmenhorst, E. et al. 2010. Nocturnal traffic noise and morning cognitive performance. Presented at SLEEP 2010, the 24th annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, in San Antonio, Texas.

A study of 20 flight attendants suggests that people who undergo repeated, frequent episodes of jet lag without sufficient recovery time between trips may develop actual tissue changes in the brain in an area that's involved in spatial orientation and related aspects of cognitive function. The extent to which this is due to sleep deprivation rather than time shifts per se is unknown. These findings may also be relevant to shift workers, medical trainees and others who work long hours.

A study involving adult male white-footed mice may help us understand seasonal dysfunctions such as seasonal affective disorder. The study found that those mice kept in artificial light conditions mimicking winter (8 hours of light per day) had impaired spatial memory compared to mice kept in “summer” conditions (16 hours per day). They also had, on average, smaller brains, with a proportionally smaller hippocampus, as well as changes in dendritic spine density in that region. Other types of memory did not appear to be affected.

A survey of 824 undergraduate students has found that those who were evening types had lower average grades than those who were morning types.

The finding was presented at SLEEP 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS).

We know circadian rhythm affects learning and memory in that we find it easier to learn at certain times of day than others, but now a study involving Siberian hamsters has revealed that having a functioning circadian system is in itself critical to being able to remember. The finding has implications for disorders such as Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. The critical factor appears to be the amount of the neurotransmitter GABA, which acts to inhibit brain activity. The circadian clock controls the daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness by inhibiting different parts of the brain by releasing GABA. It seems that if it’s not working right, if the hippocampus is overly inhibited by too much GABA, then the circuits responsible for memory storage don't function properly. The effect could be fixed by giving a GABA antagonist, which blocks GABA from binding to synapses. Recent mouse studies have also demonstrated that mice with symptoms of Down syndrome and Alzheimer's also show improved learning and memory when given the same GABA antagonist. The findings may also have implications for general age-related cognitive decline, because age brings about a degradation in the circadian system. It’s also worth noting that the hamsters' circadian systems were put out of commission by manipulating the hamsters' exposure to light, in a technique that was compared to "sending them west three time zones." The effect was independent of sleep duration.

[688] Ruby, N. F., Hwang C. E., Wessells C., Fernandez F., Zhang P., Sapolsky R., et al. (2008).  Hippocampal-dependent learning requires a functional circadian system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 105(40), 15593 - 15598.

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