Circadian rhythms: basic neurobiology and clinical applications

Annu Rev Med. 1997:48:253-66. doi: 10.1146/


Circadian rhythms are major features of adaptation to our environment. In mammals, circadian rhythms are generated and regulated by a circadian timing system. This system consists of entertainment pathways, pacemakers, and pace-maker output to effector systems that are under circadian control. The primary entertainment pathway is the retinohypothalamic tract, which terminates in the circadian pacemakers, the suprachiasmatic nuclei of the hypothalamus. The output of the suprachiasmatic nuclei is principally to the hypothalamus, the midline thalamus, and the basal forebrain. This provides a temporal organization to the sleep-wake cycle, to many physiological and endocrine functions, and to psychomotor performance functions. Disorders of circadian timing primarily affect entertainment and pacemaker functions. The pineal hormone, melatonin, appears to be promising agent for therapy of some circadian timing disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Prosencephalon / physiopathology
  • Retina / physiopathology
  • Sleep Stages / physiology*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiopathology
  • Thalamus / physiopathology
  • Wakefulness / physiology*