Sunday, October 2, 2011

Circadian Rhythms

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The word circadian comes from the Latin root circania meaning circle. For modern purposes, the word circadian refers to anything that occurs in 4 cycles or periods. Rest and activity, taking in of fluid, formation of urine, body temperature, cardiac output, oxygen consumption, cell division, and the secreting activity of endocrine glands all participate in 4 hour cycles in many organisms, and are referred to as circadian rhythms. One of the most well understood circadian rhythms is the sleep circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm, commonly known as the biological clock, is thought to have three components, including the genetic machinery that allows the clock to regulate the expression of specific genes, the timekeeping machinery of the clock, and receptors that collect input from the outside world to set the clock.

Melatonin, the primary product of the pineal gland, has been known to regulate sleep cycles during the night for some time now. Just recently, scientists have discovered melatonins daytime counterpart SAM. SAM, a derivative of the amino acid methionine, combines with serotonin to make melatonin. SAM is manufactured to relatively high concentrations during the day, and burned away to low concentrations in the night. Serotonin also goes through a slight concentration drop in the night due to its role in melatonin formation, but, because it is needed in many other essential parts of the brain, its concentration does not vary as much as melatonin and SAM.

Alertness varies through out the day in relation to the three circadian phase regulatory molecules. Serotonin and SAM both start off in relatively high concentrations in the height of the day, while melatonin is almost no where to be found. As the sun begins to set, the pineal gland recognizes that there is less and less light. Norepinephrine begins to bind to รข-receptors in the pineal gland, and the pineal gland used the day time store of SAM and serotonin to manufacture melatonin. Once the concentration of SAM is to low to make any more melatonin, melatonin levels start to drop off, and SAM is free to rebuild. When the pineal gland senses the coming of light, SAM is produced again starting a new daily cycle.

As of May, 000, nine genes had been found that regulate circadian rhythms in mammals. Eight of the genes were found to be transcription factors, and the ninth gene encoded a kinase enzyme. Researchers discovered that a single amino acid mutation in the kinase, casein kinase I epsilon (CKI), rendered it slower to phosphoralate and turn on a group of proteins encoded by the gene located at the Tao locus named period. When this gene was inserted into hamsters, their circadian rhythms were shortened from 4 to 0 hours, demonstrating that timekeeping proteins do exist, and they regulate a period gene located on the Tao locus that helps keep the biological clock. Another study, done by Rosbash and Hall, discovered the that cryptochromes found in almost all organisms, including human retina, absorb blue light and send signals that reset many kinds of circadian rhythms to the day night cycle. This was significant, because it was thought that the same rods and cones that were used for sight somehow transmitted signals to the brain that told when night was coming. Rosbash and Hall proved that there was a totally separate system of nerves and receptors dedicated to the biological clock that were pretty much universal through out the animal kingdom, and these light receptors appear to be located through out the body, not just in the eyes.

Custom Essays on Circadian Rhythms

I feel that sleep is one of the most interesting activities that people engage in on a daily basis. I think that the study of circadian rhythms is very important to the ongoing development of the study of sleep, especially because so many people are acquiring sleep disorders. Hopefully sleep researchers will be able to use their knowledge about circadian rhythms to help those with sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy and insomnia.

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