The genetics of circadian rhythms, sleep and health

Hum Mol Genet. 2017 Oct 1;26(R2):R128-R138. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddx240.


Circadian rhythms are 24-h rhythms in physiology and behaviour generated by molecular clocks, which serve to coordinate internal time with the external world. The circadian system is a master regulator of nearly all physiology and its disruption has major consequences on health. Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption (SCRD) is a ubiquitous feature in today's 24/7 society, and studies on shift-workers have shown that SCRD can lead not only to cognitive impairment, but also metabolic syndrome and psychiatric illness including depression (1,2). Mouse models of clock mutants recapitulate these deficits, implicating mechanistic and causal links between SCRD and disease pathophysiology (3-5). Importantly, treating clock disruption reverses and attenuates these adverse health states in animal models (6,7), thus establishing the circadian system as a novel therapeutic target. Significantly, circadian and clock-controlled gene mutations have recently been identified by Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS) in the aetiology of sleep, mental health and metabolic disorders. This review will focus upon the genetics of circadian rhythms in sleep and health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks / genetics
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Depression / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Sleep / genetics*
  • Sleep / physiology