Biological Clocks, Biology tutorial


Biological clocks are methods internal to the animal which consists of rhythmic influence on its physiology and behavior, synchronizing them to cyclic modifications in the environment. Biological clocks are internal timing method that can have a period of quite a few hours, a day, or a year. The circadian clock runs with a period of around 24 hours. Circadian clocks encompass two functional features:

1) They will persist (free-run) having a period of around 24 hours in the absence of environmental cues

2) They will synchronize (entrain) to a 24 hour environmental cue, like the light-dark cycle. Entrainment is significant as it permits animals to synchronize to changes in the seasonal photo-cycle. How they synchronize to the cue is found out by the phase response curve (PRC). 

Types of Biological Clocks:

1) Exogenous: This is a direct response to different changes in the external (or exogenous) geophysical stimuli.

2) Endogenous: This is an internal (or endogenous) rhythm which programs the behavior of animals in synchrony with the exogenous temporal period, specifically a 24-hours or 365-days period.

3) The synchronization method which comprise the combination of (1) and (2) above.

An animal might utilize numerous features of the external environment to gain information regarding the passage of time. The most significant of such is the apparent movement of celestial bodies example: moon, sun and stars, such influences have been much studies in birds and in bees. Moreover, it is possible that animals can get time cues from changes in environmental temperature, barometric pressure and magnetic phenomena.

The biological clocks assess the day length and change our behavior according to the season's circadian rhythms and Circaannual rhythms are inner calendars built into the nervous system of animals, particularly in the brain.

Circadian Clocks

Circadian clocks are significant in photoperiod time measurement. There are two models for how clocks might be significant in measurement of photoperiod:

1) External coincidence model (that is, external light takes place at a critical stage in the circadian oscillation).

2) Internal coincidence model (that is, internal stage of multiple circadian oscillators is set through dusk and dawn). Circadian clocks are as well significant in animal orientation. Most of the species of fish and bird use the sun for orientation. To be successful, though, adjustment to the sun's daily movement is essential. A circadian clock builds up this adjustment. 

Recent Fascination with Circadian clocks?

The theory of time has for all time perplexed and fascinated people. Determine the nature of this mysterious thing which affects our lives so much? However the ancient Greek philosophers supposed that time was infinite, they perceived it as following endless cycles where the universe is born and dies, having an exact recurrence of everything in each and every cycle. The Newtonian view held that time is an immutable entity flowing on an infinite linear scale operating independent of the nature's forces.

Einstein's theory of relativity thoroughly changed this conventional wisdom through revealing that time is in reality embedded in the very fabric of the physical universe giving mount to a reality which is more precisely deduced as a four-dimensional space-time continuum. It follows from the big bang theory that time and our physical universe was jointly made at a singular event that, according to current estimates, occurred ~12 - 15 billion years ago, at least from our frame of reference.

In spite of our changing understanding of the nature of time, one thing has remained constant, the human obsession having harnessing this subtle entity. From sundials to calendars to cesium clocks, the quest to capture the essence of time and calculate its passage has notably affected human history. 

In the year 1729, a French astronomer named Jean Jacques d'Ortous de Marian took plants which shown daily leaf movements and put them in the dark for some days. He observed that the leaves of the plants continued to open throughout the day and close at night in spite of the absence of sunlight. Based on this decisive experiment, he concluded that the observed rhythm was not passively driven through a cyclic environment however an innate property of the plant was. From such humble starting, the formal study of circadian (that is, endogenously driven biological rhythms having periods of ≅24 h) biology can be outlined. It is now fairly clear that living organisms have been tracking the passage of daily time long before we ever discovered clocks. 

Though, the contention which life forms have internal time-keeping devices was just broadly accepted around 60 years ago. For some it seemed too incredulous that organic material had properties identical to clocks fashioned via human hands. After all, it was claimed that however daily pacemakers keep on ticking by a reasonably constant period in the absence of ecological cues (or zeitgebers); in natural conditions that they are precisely synchronized to local time.

Overview of the Circadian Timing System:

The circadian time-keeping system makes sure predictive adaptation of individuals to the reproducible 24 hour day/night alternations of our planet through generating the 24 hour (circadian) rhythms found in the hormone discharge and cardiovascular, biophysical and behavioral functions and others. In case of mammals, the master clock inhabits in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. The molecular events finding the functional oscillation of the SCN neurons having a period of 24 hour comprise recurrent expression of some clock proteins which interact in complex transcription or translation feedback loops. In mammals, a glutamatergic monosynaptic pathway initiating from the retina controls the clock gene expression pattern in the SCN neurons, synchronizing them to the light: dark cycle. The rising theory is that neural or humoral output signals from the SCN impinge on peripheral clocks positioned in other regions of the brain, lung, heart, gastrointestinal tract, kidney, liver, fibroblasts and most of the cell phenotypes, resultant in the overt circadian rhythms in the integrated physiological functions.

Criteria for Circadian Timing System:

To be termed circadian, a biological rhythm should meet up these four general criteria:

1) The rhythms replicate once a day (24-hour period). In order to maintain track of the time of day, a clock should be at the similar point at similar time every day, that is, repeat each and every 24 hours.

2) The rhythms continue in the absence of external cues (or endogenous). The rhythm continues in constant conditions having a period of around 24 hours.

3) The rhythms can be regulated to match the local time (that is, entrainable). The rhythm can be reset via exposure to external stimuli (like heat and light), a procedure termed as entrainment. The rationale for this principle is to differentiate circadian rhythms from other imaginable endogenous 24-hour rhythms which are immune to resetting through external cues and therefore don't serve up the rationale of estimating the local time.

4) The rhythms keep up circadian periodicity over a range of physiological temperatures; they show temperature compensation. Several organisms live at a wide range of temperatures and differences in thermal energy will influence the kinetics of all the molecular methods in their cell(s).

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders:

Circadian rhythm sleep disorders all comprise a problem in the timing of if a person sleeps and is wakeful. The human body consists of a master circadian clock in a control center of the brain termed as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This internal clock controls the timing of such body rhythms as hormone and temperature levels. The main circadian rhythm which this body clock regulates is the sleep-wake cycle. The circadian clock functions in a cycle which lasts a little longer than 24-hours.

The circadian clock is 'set' mainly through visual cues of light and darkness which are communicated all along a pathway from the eyes to the SCN. This maintains the clock synchronized to the 24-hour day. The other time cues, termed as zeitgebers, as well can affect the timing of clock. Such cues comprise meal and exercise schedules. Circadian rhythms and their sensitivity to time cues might vary as a person ages.

Each and every circadian rhythm sleep disorder comprises one of the following problems:

a) You encompass a hard time initiating sleep.

b) You struggle to sustain sleep, waking up often all through the night.

c) You tend to wake-up too early and are not able to go back to sleep.

d) You sleep is non-restorative or of poor feature.

Kinds of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders:

1) Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSP):

People having delayed sleep phase disorder are not capable to fall asleep at a normal time at night. They might stay awake till 2 a.m. or afterward. It makes it tough for them to wake up in time for school or work. Some standard of living let for this type of sleep-wake schedule. This dilemma is much common in young adults than in other age groups. It can as well cause mental strain.

2) Advanced sleep phase disorder (ASP):

This is much common in older adults. It has merely newly been recognized as a main problem. People having ASP tend to get much sleepy in the early afternoon. As an outcome, they go to bed much prior than normal. ASP causes them to wake up too early in the morning and they are not able to go back to sleep.

3) Jet lag:

The most general circadian sleep problem is the jet lag. This takes place if a person travels across many time zones. A good illustration of this is a typical flight from the United States to Europe. Such a flight frequently produces jet lag signs. The jet lag can last for the week or longer.

Symptoms associated to jet lag comprise the given:

  • Insomnia
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Indigestion
  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration

4) Shift work:

Shift work disorder influences people who work night shifts or rotating shifts. Their main problem is much similar to jet lag, even although they never amend time zones.

The people on night shift have to work whereas others are sleeping. Then they should try to sleep whereas others are awake. They tend to get less sleep throughout the day than most others get at night. Their sleep is frequently fragmented all through the day. Their brains are active and are planned to be awake. People who work on rotating shifts frequently find it tough to get adequate sleep.

5) Irregular sleep-wake rhythm:

People having an irregular sleep-wake rhythm are not able to set a sleep prototype no matter how hard they try. Their bedtimes might happen at different times in a 24-hour period. Such times might as well drift later and later. The problems which result are much similar to those associated to jet lag.


1) Lifestyle changes:

People might manage better with certain circadian rhythm sleep disorders by doing such things as regulating their exposure to day-light, making modifications in the timing of their daily habitual and tactically setting up naps.

2) Sleep hygiene:

Such instructions assist patients build up healthy sleep habits and teach them to avoid making the problem worse through trying to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.

3) Bright light therapy:

This treatment coordinates the body clock by exposing the eyes to safe levels of intense, bright light for short durations at planned times of day.

4) Medications:

A hypnotic might be set to promote sleep or a stimulant might be employed to encourage the wakefulness.

5) Melatonin:

This hormone is generated by the brain at night and appears to play a role in keeping up the sleep-wake cycle. Taking melatonin at accurate times and doses might alleviate the symptoms of certain circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

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