Implications of disturbances in circadian rhythms for cardiovascular health: A new frontier in free radical biology

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Cell autonomous circadian “clock” mechanisms are present in virtually every organ, and generate daily rhythms that are important for normal physiology. This is especially relevant to the cardiovascular system, for example the circadian mechanism orchestrates rhythms in heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac contractility, metabolism, gene and protein abundance over the 24-h day and night cycles. Conversely, disturbing circadian rhythms (e.g. via shift work, sleep disorders) increases cardiovascular disease risk, and exacerbates cardiac remodelling and worsens outcome.

Notably, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are important contributors to heart disease, especially the pathophysiologic damage that occurs after myocardial infarction (MI, heart attack). However, little is known about how the circadian mechanism, or rhythm desynchrony, is involved in these key pathologic stress responses.

This review summarizes the current knowledge on circadian rhythms in the cardiovascular system, and the implications of rhythm disturbances for cardiovascular health. Furthermore, we highlight how free radical biology coincides with the pathogenesis of myocardial repair and remodelling after MI, and indicate a role for the circadian system in the oxidative stress pathways in the heart and brain after MI. This fusion of circadian biology with cardiac oxidative stress pathways is novel, and offers enormous potential for improving our understanding and treatment of heart disease.

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