Disturbances in regular circadian oscillations can have negative effects on cardiovascular function, but epidemiological data are inconclusive and new data from animal experiments elucidating critical biological mechanisms are needed. To evaluate the consequences of chronic phase shifts of the light/dark (LD) cycle on hormonal and cardiovascular rhythms, two experiments were performed. In Experiment 1, male rats were exposed to either a regular 12:12 LD cycle (CONT) or rotating 8-h phase-delay shifts of LD every second day (SHIFT) for 10 weeks. During this period, blood pressure (BP) was monitored weekly, and daily rhythms of melatonin, corticosterone, leptin and testosterone were evaluated at the end of the experiment. In Experiment 2, female rats were exposed to the identical shifted LD schedule for 12 weeks, and daily rhythms of BP, heart rate (HR) and locomotor activity were recorded using telemetry. Preserved melatonin rhythms were found in the pineal gland, plasma, heart and kidney of SHIFT rats with damped amplitude in the plasma and heart, suggesting that the central oscillator can adapt to chronic phase-delay shifts. In contrast, daily rhythms of corticosterone, testosterone and leptin were eliminated in SHIFT rats. Exposure to phase shifts did not lead to increased body weight and elevated BP. However, a shifted LD schedule substantially decreased the amplitude and suppressed the circadian power of the daily rhythms of BP and HR, implying weakened circadian control of physiological and behavioural processes. The results demonstrate that endocrine and cardiovascular rhythms can differentially adapt to chronic phase-delay shifts, promoting internal desynchronization between central and peripheral oscillators, which in combination with other negative environmental stimuli may result in negative health effects.
Keywords: Melatonin; blood pressure; corticosterone; heart rate; leptin; testosterone.