Sunday, April 10, 2005

Phase-Shifting Effects Of Light

In the previous post, I introduced the concept of entrainment of circadian rhythms to environmental cycles. As I stated there, I will focus on non-parametric effects of light (i.e., the timing of onsets and offsets of light) on the phase and perio d of the clock.

Entrainment is a mechanism that forces the internal period (tau) of the biological clock to assume the same period (T) as the environmental cycle, i.e., tau=T. In nature, at least on this planet, this means forcing the biol ogical clock to oscillate with the period of 24h.

Non-parametric properties of light are binary: either the light is on, or it is off. For now, we will ignore parametric properties such as light intensity and light quality (spectral composition). Accor ding to the theory, circadian rhythms are entrained by effects of transitions - lights-on or lights-off - on the phase of the rhythm. Thus, switching on the light in the morning, for instance, induces a phase-shift: either a phase-advance or a phase-delay. This is analogous to re-setting an imprecise wrist-watch every morning. If the watch is running slow, phase-advancing it every morning will reset it to the correct local time. If the watch is running fast, phase-delaying will reset it to the proper time. One can conceptualize biological rhythms to be like slow watches if the endogenous freerunning period (tau) is longer than 24 hours, or like fast watches if the tau is shorter than 24 hours. Experimental evidence in a number of organisms po ints out that effects of lights-on in the morning are what is really important. The evidence for effects of lights-off in the evening is mixed.

If, for example, an animal has a clock with endogenous freerunning period (tau) of 23 hours, it needs to be r eset by phase-delaying it by exactly one hour (23 - 24 = -1h) each day. Another animal may have tau=25 hours and needs to be phase-advanced by exactly one hour (25-24 = +1h) each day. How this requirement is met has been studied by systematic exploration of phase-shifting effects of light and construction of Phase-Response Curves (PRC).

There are eight different experimental protocols that can be used to construct a PRC. They have been shown in many cases to be equivalent to each other (I have published a study demonstrating that two of them are equivalent in my species), yet some questions still remain. Choice of the particular method will depend on the organism studied and the actual question that is asked. I will here describe the simplest method (Aschoff Type I), the protocol that is sure to make your peer-reviewers happy as it is the most straightforward and uncontroversial method and is considered to be "standard".

Individual organisms are kept in isolation in prolonged constant condit ions, including, most importantly, constant darkness (DD), and some type of output of the clock is continuously monitored (e.g., locomotor activity or body temperature in animals, leaf movements in plants, etc.) Every couple of weeks or so, each animal i s exposed to a light pulse of predetermined duration, intensity and spectral composition. What is systematically varied is the phase of the rhythm at which the light-pulse is applied. How is the phase determined?

The animal kept in DD does not experience a real day and a real night. Yet, its behavior indicates that it continues to experience subjective day and subjective night. For instance, for a nocturnal animal, time when it is active is subjective night and time when it is asleep is subjective day. In a diurnal animal it is the reverse: animal is active during its subjective day and asleep during subjective night.

By convention, the time at which the animal initiates its day-specific activity (i.e., waking up for diurnal animals and falling asleep for nocturnal animals) is denoted as Circadian Time Zero (CT0), or sometimes refered to as Internal Time Zero (IT0). That is the time at which dawn would have arrived in the first cycle in DD, i.e., one cycle after the last exp erience of lights-on in LD12:12.

In diurnal animals, time of activity/wakefulness is subjective day and it spans CT0 - CT12. Its subjective night, when it is inactive/asleep, spans CT12-CT24. Likewise, nocturnal animals start their activity (e.g,. whee l-running in rodents) at CT12 and their subjective day also spans CT0-CT12 and subjective night CT12-CT24.

When you look at the records of your experimental animals you will see that light pulses resulted in phase-shifts of the circadian rhythm. In most organisms, light-pulses applied during the subjective day have no effect on the phase, pulses that fell during the early subjective night resulted in phase delays, and pulses targeted at late subjective night produced phase-advances.

You will also notice that it often took several days of gradual phase-advancing before the rhythm assumes the new steady state after the pulse. For phase-delays, fewer days are needed for the assumption of steady-state. These apparent gradual phase-shifts are called tr ansients.

However, remember that circadian systems are multioscillatory in nature. Like the pacemaker (e.g., the SCN in mammals), every other cell in the body also contains a clock that behaves like a slave oscillator. Experiments using two pu lses given just hours apart determined that the pacemaker is phase-shifted by the light-pulse immediately. Activity, temperature, etc. are driven by brain centers other than the pacemaker and thus act as peripheral oscillators. What you see in the records of your animals is gradual resynchronization of these peripheral clocks by the pacemaker.

Part 1: Entrainment
Part 3: Constructing the Phase Response Curve


Blogger nbm said...

I have DSPS and since diagnosis have been reading all I can find about it. No scientific background, but it's surprising how much more I understand now on second & third readings of some of the stuff. Have, I think, understood phase advance/delay and PRC. But I just cannot grasp what a phase angle (of entrainment) is!! --As in, for example, "... such that for every 0.1-h change in circadian period, there was a 1.11-h change in the phase angle of entrainment" (Wright et al, 2001). Have you explained that somewhere? Can you? Or can you point me to a source? Will be verrry appreciative!!

3:16 PM  
Blogger coturnix said...

You take a characteristic time-point of the External Time, e.g., the "lights-off" time.

Then you take a characteristic time-point of the Internal Time, e.g., the time of falling asleep.

You subtract the latter from the former and you get a number that is the DIFFERENCE between the two phases. For instance, if the lights are off at 8pm and you fall asleep at 10pm, your phase angle is -2h. If you fall asleep at 7pm, the phase angle is +1h.

It is called an 'angle' because in the original research, the times were depicted as circles (24hours around) and the phase-differences were measured in degrees of an arc.

3:25 PM  
Blogger nbm said...

THANK you for answering. I've gone 'round in circles myself, trying to find this page again. You have so much interesting stuff - I won't make it thru it THIS year. May not understand "phase angles of entrainment" this year either, but am not giving up. And despite lack of expertise, I'm blogging my DSPS at (since I never figured out how to do it on any other blog venue...) A sort of Circadiana for those without scientific background.

4:26 PM  

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