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J Biol Rhythms. 1999 Aug;14(4):260-74.

Linear demasking techniques are unreliable for estimating the circadian phase of ambulatory temperature data.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Biol Rhythms 1999 Oct;14(5):420.


Clinical investigators often use ambulatory temperature monitoring to assess the endogenous phase and amplitude of an individual's circadian pacemaker for diagnostic and research purposes. However, an individual's daily schedule includes changes in levels of activity, in posture, and in sleep-wake state, all of which are known to have masking or evoked effects on core body temperature (CBT) data. To compensate for or to correct these masking effects, many investigators have developed "demasking" techniques to extract the underlying circadian phase and amplitude data. However, the validity of these methods is uncertain. Therefore, the authors tested a variety of analytic methods on two different ambulatory data sets from two different studies in which the endogenous circadian pacemaker was not synchronized to the sleep-wake schedule. In both studies, circadian phase estimates calculated from CBT collected when each subject was ambulatory (i.e., free to perform usual daily activities) were compared to those calculated during the same study when the same subject's activities were controlled. In the first study, 24 sighted young and older subjects living on a 28-h scheduled "day" protocol were studied for approximately 21 to 25 cycles of 28-h each. In the second study, a blind man whose endogenous circadian rhythms were not synchronized to the 24-h day despite his maintenance of a regular 24-h sleep-wake schedule was studied for more than 80 consecutive 24-h days. During both studies, the relative phase of the endogenous (circadian) and evoked (scheduled activity-rest) components of the ambulatory temperature data changed progressively and relatively slowly, enabling analysis of the CBT rhythm at nearly all phase relationships between the two components. The analyses of the ambulatory temperature data demonstrate that the masking of the CBT rhythm evoked by changes in activity levels, posture, or sleep-wake state associated with the evoked schedule of activity and rest can significantly obscure the endogenous circadian component of the signal, the object of study. In addition, the masking effect of these evoked responses on temperature depends on the circadian phase at which they occur. These nonlinear interactions between circadian phase and sleep-wake schedule render ambulatory temperature data unreliable for the assessment of endogenous circadian phase. Even when proposed algebraic demasking techniques are used in an attempt to reveal the endogenous temperature rhythm, the phase estimates remain severely compromised.

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