Dopamine Signaling in Circadian Photoentrainment: Consequences of Desynchrony

Yale J Biol Med. 2019 Jun 27;92(2):271-281. eCollection 2019 Jun.


Circadian rhythms, or biological oscillations of approximately 24 hours, impact almost all aspects of our lives by regulating the sleep-wake cycle, hormone release, body temperature fluctuation, and timing of food consumption. The molecular machinery governing these rhythms is similar across organisms ranging from unicellular fungi to insects, rodents, and humans. Circadian entrainment, or temporal synchrony with one's environment, is essential for survival. In mammals, the central circadian pacemaker is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus and mediates entrainment to environmental conditions. While the light:dark cycle is the primary environmental cue, arousal-inducing, non-photic signals such as food consumption, exercise, and social interaction are also potent synchronizers. Many of these stimuli enhance dopaminergic signaling suggesting that a cohesive circadian physiology depends on the relationship between circadian clocks and the neuronal circuits responsible for detecting salient events. Here, we review the inner workings of mammalian circadian entrainment, and describe the health consequences of circadian rhythm disruptions with an emphasis on dopamine signaling.

Keywords: Circadian disorder; Circadian rhythms; Desynchrony; Dopamine; Jet-lag; Photoentrainment; Shift-work.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Photoperiod
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiopathology*


  • Dopamine