Ever wondered why you sleep and wake at regular daily intervals or why you are most alert at certain times of the day? Have you ever been jetlagged?
All are features of our internal circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are biological processes in our bodies that follow roughly a 24 hour cycle, for example what time you wake up and fall asleep or when you eat. These biological clocks are coordinated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a small region in the brain that keeps all the cells in our body running to time, in the same way that our smart phones are constantly being reset so that they tell the same time. Circadian rhythms are internally regulated but are also influenced by external cues such as sunlight, social cues and temperature. This enables us to anticipate and adapt to environmental changes such as time zone travel.
Circadian rhythms are important in driving all of our bodily functions, so when they are disturbed they can contribute to any number of complex diseases, including metabolic and cardiac diseases. Disturbances in circadian rhythms have also been linked to many psychiatric diseases, for example, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. Our focus is to understand the genes that influence circadian rhythms and sleep timing. We do this by studying genes and mechanisms that regulate these circadian behaviours in mice and by investigating what goes wrong when these genes and mechanisms are disturbed.