Why do birds sing in
the morning, while frogs call at night? Why are heart attacks likely to strike
before dawn, while asthmatic attacks generally occur after sunset? Why do we
most often feel lethargic and depressed during the short, dark days of winter,
while on long, sunny summer days, we feel energetic and alert? The answer to
each of these questions lies in understanding the central role of the brain's clock in organizing our
body functions around the major variable in the external world, the
daily cycle of darkness and light. This circadian clock, located in the
suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the
brain, whose cellular
processes mark the passage of time in near 24-hr cycles, is a
fundamental life component. Circadian clocks impose temporal order on
cells, tissues and organs throughout the body, modulating body processes
over the day-night cycle. Our broad research objective is to understand
how biological timing systems control integrative brain functions.
Our research has important applications: Malfunctioning of the brain's
circadian clock results in disorders in brain and organ function,
which manifest themselves as clinical disorders of sleep, movement and
neural degeneration, such as in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
The breadth of our systems-based analysis is generating insights into
mechanisms that synchronize people to day and night, which is of proven
importance to good health and disease-resistance. Outcomes will enhance
understanding of substrates that generate long-term neural changes, with
broad relevance for public health and disease prevention. They will
enable strategies for ameliorating sleep, autonomic, degenerative,
movement and cognitive disorders.
In addition, we are engaged in interdisciplinary research with Jonathan Sweedler to build upon campus excellence in molecular and cellular biology, nano-scale analytical chemistry and bioengineering. Our goal is to discover novel insights, solutions and applications for neural repair and restoration of function through targeting critical molecules and processes that construct micro-networks during the normal wiring of the nervous system.
Dr. Martha Gillette - Background