The Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology has, since its founding, been home to ground-breaking scientific discoveries. To review reports on recent breakthroughs made by CSCB scientists, you can check out our Publications page.
More than half of the genes known to comprise the “clock” mechanism in mammalian cells were functionally identified by Center researchers. Indeed, the first mammalian clock gene to be cloned was identified by a forward genetic screen in mice undertaken at Northwestern University. The Center has remained a leader in the identification of circadian genes and sleep genes in model organisms.
Despite long-standing separation of the Sleep and Circadian Clock fields, and a nearly universally-accepted view that the circadian clock only regulates the timing and not the amount of sleep, scientists at CSCB were the first to disprove this by demonstrating that genetic alterations in the circadian clock dramatically alter sleep propensity and sleep architecture. Conversely, Center researchers were among the first to demonstrate that a widely-prescribed hypnotic could alter the state of the circadian clock, and that exercise could “feed back” on the circadian system. These pioneering discoveries at CSCB have paved the way for our current developing understanding that there are multiple complex interactions between the sleep “homeostat” and the circadian system.
CSCB research has also identified previously unknown functions of the circadian clock in other biological systems with important health significance. CSCB researchers were the first to reveal that disruption of circadian rhythms can have dramatic repercussions in metabolism, leading to “metabolic syndrome.” This finding led to the demonstration that even mis-timed food consumption could drastically affect weight gain. Recently, the roles of circadian clock function and molecular rhythms of gene expression in the pancreatic islet cells and in metabolic disturbances associated with obesity have been revealed by CSCB researchers. Disruption of rhythms have been shown by Center researchers to contribute to alterations in reproduction, emotional behavior, and the ability to cope with challenges such as bowel inflammation.