Phase response curves elucidating the dynamics of coupled oscillators

Methods Enzymol. 2009;454:1-27. doi: 10.1016/S0076-6879(08)03801-9.


Phase response curves (PRCs) are widely used in circadian clocks, neuroscience, and heart physiology. They quantify the response of an oscillator to pulse-like perturbations. Phase response curves provide valuable information on the properties of oscillators and their synchronization. This chapter discusses biological self-sustained oscillators (circadian clock, physiological rhythms, etc.) in the context of nonlinear dynamics theory. Coupled oscillators can synchronize with different frequency ratios, can generate toroidal dynamics (superposition of independent frequencies), and may lead to deterministic chaos. These nonlinear phenomena can be analyzed with the aid of a phase transition curve, which is intimately related to the phase response curve. For illustration purposes, this chapter discusses a model of circadian oscillations based on a delayed negative feedback. In a second part, the chapter provides a step-by-step recipe to measure phase response curves. It discusses specifications of this recipe for circadian rhythms, heart rhythms, neuronal spikes, central pattern generators, and insect communication. Finally, it stresses the predictive power of measured phase response curves. PRCs can be used to quantify the coupling strength of oscillations, to classify oscillator types, and to predict the complex dynamics of periodically driven oscillations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Heart / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Nonlinear Dynamics