A theoretical study on seasonality

Front Neurol. 2015 May 7;6:94. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2015.00094. eCollection 2015.


In addition to being endogenous, a circadian system must be able to communicate with the outside world and align its rhythmicity to the environment. As a result of such alignment, external Zeitgebers can entrain the circadian system. Entrainment expresses itself in coinciding periods of the circadian oscillator and the Zeitgeber and a stationary phase difference between them. The range of period mismatches between the circadian system and the Zeitgeber that Zeitgeber can overcome to entrain the oscillator is called an entrainment range. The width of the entrainment range usually increases with increasing Zeitgeber strength, resulting in a wedge-like Arnold tongue. This classical view of entrainment does not account for the effects of photoperiod on entrainment. Zeitgebers with extremely small or large photoperiods are intuitively closer to constant environments than equinoctial Zeitgebers and hence are expected to produce a narrower entrainment range. In this paper, we present theoretical results on entrainment under different photoperiods. We find that in the photoperiod-detuning parameter plane, the entrainment zone is shaped in the form of a skewed onion. The bottom and upper points of the onion are given by the free-running periods in DD and LL, respectively. The widest entrainment range is found near photoperiods of 50%. Within the onion, we calculated the entrainment phase that varies over a range of 12 h. The results of our theoretical study explain the experimentally observed behavior of the entrainment phase in dependence on the photoperiod.

Keywords: circadian clock; entrainment; oscillator; seasonality.