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Review article: Biomedical intelligence

Vol. 144 No. 2930 (2014)

Circadian rhythms – from genes to physiology and disease

  • Thomas Bollinger
  • Ueli Schibler
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2014;144:w13984


Most physiological processes in our body oscillate in a daily fashion. These include cerebral activity (sleep-wake cycles), metabolism and energy homeostasis, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, renal activity, and hormone as well as cytokine secretion. The daily rhythms in behaviour and physiology are not just acute responses to timing cues provided by the environment, but are driven by an endogenous circadian timing system. A central pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), located in the ventral hypothalamus, coordinates all overt rhythms in our body through neuronal and humoral outputs. The SCN consists of two tiny clusters of ~100,000 neurones in humans, each harbouring a self-sustained, cell-autonomous molecular oscillator. Research conducted during the past years has shown, however, that virtually all of our thirty-five trillion body cells possess their own clocks and that these are indistinguishable from those operative in SCN neurones. Here we give an overview on the molecular and cellular architecture of the mammalian circadian timing system and provide some thoughts on its medical and social impact.


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