Biological rhythms, higher brain function, and behavior: Gaps, opportunities, and challenges

Ruth Benca, Marilyn J. Duncan, Ellen Frank, Colleen McClung, Randy J. Nelson, Aleksandra Vicentic

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Increasing evidence suggests that disrupted temporal organization impairs behavior, cognition, and affect; further, disruption of circadian clock genes impairs sleep-wake cycle and social rhythms which may be implicated in mental disorders. Despite this strong evidence, a gap in understanding the neural mechanisms of this interaction obscures whether biological rhythms disturbances are the underlying causes or merely symptoms of mental disorder. Here, we review current understanding, emerging concepts, gaps, and opportunities pertinent to (1) the neurobiology of the interactions between circadian oscillators and the neural circuits subserving higher brain function and behaviors of relevance to mental health, (2) the most promising approaches to determine how biological rhythms regulate brain function and behavior under normal and pathological conditions, (3) the gaps and challenges to advancing knowledge on the link between disrupted circadian rhythms/sleep and psychiatric disorders, and (4) the novel strategies for translation of basic science discoveries in circadian biology to clinical settings to define risk, prevent or delay onset of mental illnesses, design diagnostic tools, and propose new therapeutic strategies. The review is organized around five themes pertinent to (1) the impact of molecular clocks on physiology and behavior, (2) the interactions between circadian signals and cognitive functions, (3) the interface of circadian rhythms with sleep, (4) a clinical perspective on the relationship between circadian rhythm abnormalities and affective disorders, and (5) the pre-clinical models of circadian rhythm abnormalities and mood disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-70
Number of pages14
JournalBrain Research Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 11 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Clinical Neurology


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