The times they're a-changing: effects of circadian desynchronization on physiology and disease

J Physiol Paris. 2013 Sep;107(4):310-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2013.03.007. Epub 2013 Mar 30.


Circadian rhythms are endogenous and need to be continuously entrained (synchronized) with the environment. Entrainment includes both coupling internal oscillators to external periodic changes as well as synchrony between the central clock and peripheral oscillators, which have been shown to exhibit different phases and resynchronization speed. Temporal desynchronization induces diverse physiological alterations that ultimately decrease quality of life and induces pathological situations. Indeed, there is a considerable amount of evidence regarding the deleterious effect of circadian dysfunction on overall health or on disease onset and progression, both in human studies and in animal models. In this review we discuss the general features of circadian entrainment and introduce diverse experimental models of desynchronization. In addition, we focus on metabolic, immune and cognitive alterations under situations of acute or chronic circadian desynchronization, as exemplified by jet-lag and shiftwork schedules. Moreover, such situations might lead to an enhanced susceptibility to diverse cancer types. Possible interventions (including light exposure, scheduled timing for meals and use of chronobiotics) are also discussed.

Keywords: Circadian rhythms; Desynchronization; Entrainment; Jet-lag; Shiftwork.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chronobiology Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Chronobiology Disorders / psychology
  • Chronobiology Disorders / therapy*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / psychology
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / therapy
  • Melatonin / physiology
  • Phototherapy / methods
  • Time Factors


  • Melatonin