Why is the body's daily clock important, and how does disruption of this clock affect health?
As the saying goes, "Time is nature's way of making sure everything doesn't happen at once".
Biological rhythms occur at many different time scales, from seconds to years. Our lab focuses on circadian (or daily) rhythms, and aims to understand how these daily rhythms in physiology and behavior are controlled by the brain, and influenced by the environmental light-dark cycle.
Work in the lab on circadian rhythms is focused on the general question of the adaptive significance of circadian clocks, hoping to understand how circadian rhythms ensure optimal "healthy" function, and how their disruption leads to pathophysiology. We are also interested in how these processes change over development, from early life to old age.
We approach this in three main domains:
1) Understanding how the circadian clock drives normal daily changes in brain and behavior, and how environmental disruption of the circadian clock leads to dysfunction, with a particular focus on the prefrontal cortex (PFC), and PFC related behaviors. This work is directly supported by an NSF CAREER award.
2) Exploring how the circadian clock drives rhythms in metabolism in both the brain and periphery, and identifying the consequences of disrupted timing on metabolic function, with particular focus on obesity, diabetes, and other aspects of the metabolic syndrome. This work is directly supported by an NIH R01 from NIDDK.
3) Probing the influence of the circadian clock on the immune system, particularly in the realm of innate immune responses, but also in the context of inflammatory tone. We are interested in how the circadian clock drives changes in inflammation and immune responses, in both the brain and in the periphery, and if these processes can be harnessed to improve health and wellbeing.
We use a combination of approaches, including in vivo biosensor measures of brain activity and electroencephalographic recordings of brain activity during the sleep-wake cycle. We also make use of a host of ex vivo approaches, including gene expression, immunohistochemistry, and slice electrophysiology.