Two Decades of Circadian Time

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Circadian rhythms coordinate our physiology at a fundamental level. Over the last 20 years, we have witnessed a paradigm shift in our perception of what the clocks driving such rhythms actually are, moving from ‘black boxes’ to talking about autoregulatory transcriptional/post-translational feedback loops with identified molecular components. We also now know that the pacemaker of the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) is not our only clock but quite the opposite because circadian clocks abound in our bodies, driving local rhythms of cellular metabolism, and synchronised to each other and to solar time, by cues from the SCN. This discovery of dispersed local clocks has far-reaching implications for understanding our physiology and the pathological consequences of clock dysfunction, revealing that clocks are critical in a variety of metabolic and neurological conditions, all of which have long-term morbidity attributable to them. Without the currently available molecular framework, these insights would have not have been possible. In the circadian future, a growing appreciation of the systems-level functioning of these clocks and their various cerebral and visceral outputs, will likely stimulate the development of novel therapies for major illnesses.

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