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J Biol Rhythms. 2002 Feb;17(1):4-13.

Getting through to circadian oscillators: why use constant routines?

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Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Brigham & Women's Hosp, Boston, MA


Overt 24-h rhythmicity is composed of both exogenous and endogenous components, reflecting the product of multiple (periodic) feedback loops with a core pacemaker at their center. Researchers attempting to reveal the endogenous circadian (near 24-h) component of rhythms commonly conduct their experiments under constant environmental conditions. However, even under constant environmental conditions, rhythmic changes in behavior, such as food intake or the sleep-wake cycle, can contribute to observed rhythmicity in many physiological and endocrine variables. Assessment of characteristics of the core circadian pacemaker and its direct contribution to rhythmicity in different variables, including rhythmicity in gene expression, may be more reliable when such periodic behaviors are eliminated or kept constant across all circadian phases. This is relevant for the assessment of the status of the circadian pacemaker in situations in which the sleep-wake cycle or food intake regimes are altered because of external conditions, such as in shift work or jet lag. It is also relevant for situations in which differences in overt rhythmicity could be due to changes in either sleep oscillatory processes or circadian rhythmicity, such as advanced or delayed sleep phase syndromes, in aging, or in particular clinical conditions. Researchers studying human circadian rhythms have developed constant routine protocols to assess the status of the circadian pacemaker in constant behavioral and environmental conditions, whereas this technique is often thought to be unnecessary in the study of animal rhythms. In this short review, the authors summarize constant routine methodology and what has been learned from constant routines and argue that animal and human circadian rhythm researchers should (continue to) use constant routines as a step on the road to getting through to central and peripheral circadian oscillators in the intact organism.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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