Sex Differences in the Impact of Shift Work Schedules on Pathological Outcomes in an Animal Model of Ischemic Stroke

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Abstract

Circadian clock desynchronization has been implicated in the pathophysiology of cardiovascular disease and related risk factors (eg, obesity, diabetes). Thus, we examined the extent to which circadian desynchronization exacerbates ischemic stroke outcomes and whether its detrimental effects on stroke severity and functional impairments are further modified by biological sex. Circadian entrainment of activity rhythms in all male and female rats was observed during exposure to a fixed light-dark (LD) 12:12 cycle but was severely disrupted when this LD cycle was routinely shifted (12 h advance/5 d) for approximately 7 weeks. In contrast to the regular estrous cycles in fixed LD animals, cyclicity was abolished and persistent estrus was evident in all shifted LD females. The disruption of estrous cyclicity in shifted LD females was associated with a significant increase in serum estradiol levels relative to that observed in fixed LD controls. Circadian rhythm disruption exacerbated stroke outcomes in both shifted LD male and female rats and further amplified sex differences in stroke impairments. In males, but not females, circadian disruption after exposure to the shifted LD cycle was marked by high rates of mortality. In surviving females, circadian desynchronization after exposure to shifted LD cycles produced significant increases in stroke-induced infarct volume and sensorimotor deficits with corresponding decreases in serum IGF-1 levels. These results suggest that circadian rhythm disruption associated with shift work schedules or the irregular nature of our everyday work and/or social environments may interact with other nonmodifiable risk factors such as biological sex to modulate the pathological effects of stroke.

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