Experimental Jetlag Disrupts Circadian Clock Genes But Improves Performance in Racehorses After Light-Dependent Rapid Resetting of Neuroendocrine Systems and the Rest–Activity Cycle

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Abrupt alterations in the 24-h light: dark cycle, such as those resulting from transmeridian air travel, disrupt circadian biological rhythms in humans with detrimental consequences on cognitive and physical performance. In the present study, a jetlag-simulated phase shift in photoperiod temporally impaired circadian peaks of peripheral clock gene expression in racehorses but acutely enhanced athletic performance without causing stress. Indices of aerobic and anaerobic capacities were significantly increased by a phase-advance, enabling prolonged physical activity before fatigue occurred. This was accompanied by rapid re-entrainment of the molecular clockwork and the circadian pattern of melatonin, with no disturbance of the adrenal cortical axis, but a timely rise in prolactin, which is a hormone known to target organs critical for physical performance. Subsequent studies showed that, unlike the circadian pattern of melatonin, and in contrast to other species, the daily rhythm of locomotor activity was completely eliminated under constant darkness, but it was restored immediately upon the reintroduction of a light: dark cycle. Resetting of the rhythm of locomotion was remarkably fast, revealing a rapid mechanism of adaptation and a species dependency on light exposure for the expression of daily diurnal activity. These results show that horses are exquisitely sensitive to sudden changes in photoperiod and that, unlike humans, can benefit from them; this appears to arise from powerful effects of light underlying a fast and advantageous process of adjustment to the phase shift.

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