Wheel-running activity modulates circadian organization and the daily rhythm of eating behavior

Julie S. Pendergast, Katrina L. Branecky, Roya Huang, Kevin D. Niswender, Shin Yamazaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Consumption of high-fat diet acutely alters the daily rhythm of eating behavior and circadian organization (the phase relationship between oscillators in central and peripheral tissues) in mice. Voluntary wheel-running activity counteracts the obesogenic effects of high-fat diet and also modulates circadian rhythms in mice. In this study, we sought to determine whether voluntary wheel-running activity could prevent the proximate effects of high-fat diet consumption on circadian organization and behavioral rhythms in mice. Mice were housed with locked or freely rotating running wheels and fed chow or high-fat diet for 1 week and rhythms of locomotor activity, eating behavior, and molecular timekeeping (PERIOD2::LUCIFERASE luminescence rhythms) in ex vivo tissues were measured. Wheel-running activity delayed the phase of the liver rhythm by 4 h in both chow- and high-fat diet-fed mice. The delayed liver phase was specific to wheel-running activity since an enriched environment without the running wheel did not alter the phase of the liver rhythm. In addition, wheel-running activity modulated the effect of high-fat diet consumption on the daily rhythm of eating behavior. While high-fat diet consumption caused eating events to be more evenly dispersed across the 24 h-day in both locked-wheel and wheel-running mice, the effect of high-fat diet was much less pronounced in wheel-running mice. Together these data demonstrate that wheel-running activity is a salient factor that modulates liver phase and eating behavior rhythms in both chow- and high-fat-diet fed mice. Wheel-running activity in mice is both a source of exercise and a self-motivating, rewarding behavior. Understanding the putative reward-related mechanisms whereby wheel-running activity alters circadian rhythms could have implications for human obesity since palatable food and exercise may modulate similar reward circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 177
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAR
StatePublished - 2014


  • C57BL/6J
  • Circadian
  • Eating behavior
  • Liver
  • Metabolism
  • Mice
  • Obesity
  • Voluntary exercise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)


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