Pathophysiology and pathogenesis of circadian rhythm sleep disorders

J Physiol Anthropol. 2012 Mar 13;31(1):7. doi: 10.1186/1880-6805-31-7.


Metabolic, physiological and behavioral processes exhibit 24-hour rhythms in most organisms, including humans. These rhythms are driven by a system of self-sustained clocks and are entrained by environmental cues such as light-dark cycles as well as food intake. In mammals, the circadian clock system is hierarchically organized such that the master clock in the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus integrates environmental information and synchronizes the phase of oscillators in peripheral tissues. The transcription and translation feedback loops of multiple clock genes are involved in the molecular mechanism of the circadian system. Disturbed circadian rhythms are known to be closely related to many diseases, including sleep disorders. Advanced sleep phase type, delayed sleep phase type and nonentrained type of circadian rhythm sleep disorders (CRSDs) are thought to result from disorganization of the circadian system. Evaluation of circadian phenotypes is indispensable to understanding the pathophysiology of CRSD. It is laborious and costly to assess an individual's circadian properties precisely, however, because the subject is usually required to stay in a laboratory environment free from external cues and masking effects for a minimum of several weeks. More convenient measurements of circadian rhythms are therefore needed to reduce patients' burden. In this review, we discuss the pathophysiology and pathogenesis of CRSD as well as surrogate measurements for assessing an individual's circadian phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenotype
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm / etiology*
  • Sleep Disorders, Circadian Rhythm / physiopathology*