Circadian Oscillator

Yesterday, I wrote a little entry on jet lag prevention.

Genome Informatics ( 15(1): 3-12 (2004)) has published an interesting paper by researchers at Humboldt University, Berlin, on the cricadian oscillator, or the biological clock of mammals (Becker-Weimann, S., Wolf, J., Kramer, A. and Herzel, H. "A Model of the Mammalian Circadian Oscillator Including the REV-ERBα Module").

In the introduction to the paper, we read:

In almost all organisms, an internal circadian clock with a period of about 24 hours has evolved that allows timekeeping even without external stimuli. This clock organizes the temporal order of molecular, physiological and behavioral processes and thereby contributes to their optimal adaptation to certain daytimes. In several tissues about 10% of mRNA concentrations have been found to be oscillating with a 24 hour period, demonstrating the vast influence of the clock on cellular processes. While many tissues contain a molecular clock, in mammals the master clock that coordinates the others is located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) in the hypothalamus.

It was interesting to me that jeg lag actually manifests in the body through the autonomous oscillations in proteins and mRNA concentrations. This paper points to other research that examine "extensive and divergent circadian gene expression in liver and heart" (Nature, 417:78-83, 2002).

The paper also points to a book, by Leon Glass and Michael C. Mackey, which seems worth a thorough study: From Clocks to Chaos: The Rhythms of Life. In fact, I think I'll be ordering it very soon as the topic continues to fascinate me whether it concerns the importance of certain temporal rythms in religious rituals or my own personal experience and scientific background.

One thing I've noticed in my personal life. In the last five years, my family and I have travelled across 11 to 12 time zones and back, every summer, and I've observed that my youngest daughter has always taken the longest to get over her jet lag and that the older members of the family have suffered from more severe lingering oscillations in attempting to re-adjust their biological time.

For those interested in further study, McGill University hosts a multi-university Center for Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology and Medicine.

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