The dramatic fluctuations in the energy demands of living organisms by the rhythmic succession of night and day on our planet has prompted a geophysical evolutionary need for a biological temporal organization necessary for maintenance of homeostasis and adaptation to environmental changes across phylogeny. The intrinsic circadian system (CS) represents a highly conserved and complex internal biological “clock”, adjusted to the 24-hour rotation of the earth about itself. This system creates and maintains cellular and organismal rhythmicity and enables a nyctohemeral coordination of multi-level physiologic processes, ranging from gene expression to behaviour. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus is the primary pacemaker of the circadian system of the organism, while a ubiquitous peripheral oscillating network of cellular molecular clocks participates in a complex circadian hierarchy. A critical loss of this harmoniously timed circadian order at different organizational levels is defined as “chronodisruption”, a condition that may alter the fundamental properties of basic homeostatic systems at molecular, cellular and organismal levels, and lead to a breakdown of biobehavioral adaptive mechanisms, resulting in maladaptive stress regulation and increased sensitivity and vulnerability to stress. Chronodisruption has been linked to neuroendocrine, immune, cardiometabolic and autonomic dysregulation, with blunted diurnal rhythms, specific sleep pattern pathologies and cognitive deficits, as well as with altered circadian gene expression. This condition may, thus, play a central role in the development of mental and somatic disease. Nevertheless, circadian and sleep disturbances are often clinically considered as “secondary” manifestations in most disorders, neglecting the potentially important pathophysiological role of CS. Understanding the pathophysiologic mechanisms of circadian dysregulation and their role in stress-related, systemic disease could provide new insights into disease mechanisms and could help advance chronobiological treatment possibilities and preventive strategies in populations at risk.

KEYWORDS: Circadian system, clock genes, stress, HPA axis, autonomic nervous system, sleep.

Agorastos Agorastos, Miltiadis Vasiliadis, George P. Chrousos


Full article in pdf (Greek)