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EUCLOCK investigates timing of circadian rhythms

European chronobiologists joined in new research network

Munich, 01/23/2006

Behaviour, physiology, and biochemistry are temporally structured and, thereby, generate daily oscillations. These cycles are not simply driven by external changes, light/dark or warm/cold for example, but are controlled by an endogenous clock that exists in the most diverse organisms, from cyanobacteria to humans. In real life, this circadian clock is synchronised to the outside world by rhythmic environmental signals, called 'zeitgebers', by a process called entrainment. EUCLOCK, a large research network starts in January 2006 to investigate the circadian clock from cells to humans, specifically how circadian clocks synchronise to their cyclic environment. The network is coordinated by Professor Till Roenneberg at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) Munich and consists of 34 chronobiologists from 29 institutions in 11 countries. EUCLOCK's budget is more than 16 million EUR over 5 years, of which 12 millions are a contribution by the European Union.

Circadian rhythms exist at all levels of biology, for example, in rest/activity, arousal, or vigilance, in temperature, urinary output, blood pressure, or heart rate, in enzyme activity, hormone concentrations, or gene expression. Experiments have shown that they continue even in the absence of environmental time cues. This internal 'day' is self-sufficient but not entirely independent of the external day. A critical feature of the clock is its synchronisation to the external day. This so-called entrainment is the key to understanding the circadian clock and its control mechanisms. Because people rarely experience constant conditions, we are always concerned with humans in the entrained state, for example, in basic or clinical research, in medical diagnosis and treatment, or in optimising work and free time. EUCLOCK, therefore, investigates the circadian clock in the context of entrainment. A misalignment between internal and external time, as a consequence of shift-work, for example, as well as insufficient entrainment because of age-related changes, for instance, can have a strong impact on health and well being.

In EUCLOCK, European researchers join forces to investigate the circadian clock under entrainment using the most advanced methods of functional genomics and phenomics comparing genetic model organisms and humans. For example, the prerequisites for large-scale, non-invasive research on human entrainment in the field will be developed. The first animal models for shift-work will be developed.  Like 20% of the human working population, flies and mice will be exposed to 'shift work' schedules, i.e., will be active and feed out of phase with their natural rhythms. The ensuing "dys-entrainment" will be investigated at levels from genes to behaviour, to provide insights for the prevention of the negative consequences of human shift-work. New genetic components will be identified (in animals and humans) that control the circadian clock and its entrainment. New tools will be developed and new circadian model organisms will be explored. These will enable the field of chronobiology to exploit the advantages of systems biology research on circadian timing to be performed and integrated at the level of the genome, the proteome, and the metabolome. The innovations of EUCLOCK are predestined to shape the future of circadian research.

Partners: University of Munich, LMU (D), University of Fribourg (CH), Inserm (F), University of Padua (I), University of Groningen (NL) University of Regensburg( D), University of Oxford (UK), Charité Berlin (D), University of Leicester (UK), University of Leiden (NL), GSF Nat. Res. Centre (D), Estonia Biocentre (EST), University of Edinburgh (UK), BRC, Szeged, Hungary (H) MRC Harwell (UK), CNRS (F), University of Geneva (CH), University of Surrey (UK), Acad. Inst. of Physiology (CZ), Erasmus MC-Rotterdam (NL), University of Basel (CH), Russ. Acad. Med. Science (RUS), University of London, Queen Mary & Westfield College (UK), University of the Philippines, LUX Biotech (UK), Lichtblick (D), NewBehaviour (CH), Personal Health Inst. Int. VOF (NL), Sowoon Technologies (CH/B), Bühlmann Laboratories (CH)

Prof. Dr. Till Roenneberg
Center for Chronobiology
Institute for Medical Psychology at the
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich
Tel.: +49 89 2180-75-239
Fax: +49 89 2180-75-615


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