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Article Date: 16 Jul 2010 – 2:00 PDT

Circadian (daily) rhythms are found in all functions e.g. performance, mood, endocrine rhythms, behaviour, sleep timing. The biological clocks that control circadian rhythms are based on a genetic programme of interacting molecules in cells throughout the body, coordinated by a ´master clock´ in the brain and synchronised by external cues, mainly light. Failure to adapt to environmental and societal cues leads to misalignment of the internal biological clocks, and is particularly evident with shift work and jet lag. This temporal dysregulation comes with enhanced risk of errors and accidents, loss of productivity, and health risks such as increased propensity for cancer, depression, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders, decreased immune responses and life span.

In patients with affective disorders, there is a close link between circadian rhythms, stability of mood, and sleep regulation. Abnormal circadian rhythms have been found in major depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.

In the last few years, discovery of the core molecular clock machinery has dramatically increased interest in the impact of circadian dysregulation on mental and physical health. Furthermore, clinical scientists have learned the enormous importance of synchronising agents to entrain rhythms in patients with affective disorders, and how useful these agents are as so-called ‘chronotherapeutics’ (e.g. light, melatonin).

Despite the growing evidence for their efficacy, and the interest of patients in non-pharmacological treatment options, it is surprising how limited the use of these treatments still is, indicating rather widespread ignorance among doctors and patients.

Professor Anna Wirz-Justice, Ph.D., one of the most prominent researchers in chronopsychiatry from the Psychiatric University Clinics in Basel, Switzerland, will present the latest findings in this field with special focus on promising new treatment approaches. Furthermore, she will discuss how wider dissemination of chronotherapeutics can be achieved.

Source: European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

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