Artificial light-at-night - a novel lifestyle risk factor for metabolic disorder and cancer morbidity

J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 2017 Jul 26;28(4):295-313. doi: 10.1515/jbcpp-2016-0116.


Both obesity and breast cancer are already recognized worldwide as the most common syndromes in our modern society. Currently, there is accumulating evidence from epidemiological and experimental studies suggesting that these syndromes are closely associated with circadian disruption. It has been suggested that melatonin (MLT) and the circadian clock genes both play an important role in the development of these syndromes. However, we still poorly understand the molecular mechanism underlying the association between circadian disruption and the modern health syndromes. One promising candidate is epigenetic modifications of various genes, including clock genes, circadian-related genes, oncogenes, and metabolic genes. DNA methylation is the most prominent epigenetic signaling tool for gene expression regulation induced by environmental exposures, such as artificial light-at-night (ALAN). In this review, we first provide an overview on the molecular feedback loops that generate the circadian regulation and how circadian disruption by ALAN can impose adverse impacts on public health, particularly metabolic disorders and breast cancer development. We then focus on the relation between ALAN-induced circadian disruption and both global DNA methylation and specific loci methylation in relation to obesity and breast cancer morbidities. DNA hypo-methylation and DNA hyper-methylation, are suggested as the most studied epigenetic tools for the activation and silencing of genes that regulate metabolic and monostatic responses. Finally, we discuss the potential clinical and therapeutic roles of MLT suppression and DNA methylation patterns as novel biomarkers for the early detection of metabolic disorders and breast cancer development.

Keywords: artificial light-at-night; biological rhythms; breast cancer; circadian disruption; light pollution; light-emitting diodes; melatonin; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Clocks / genetics
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Light
  • Melatonin / genetics
  • Metabolic Diseases / etiology*
  • Metabolic Diseases / genetics
  • Morbidity
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Risk Factors


  • Melatonin