Refinement of a limit cycle oscillator model of the effects of light on the human circadian pacemaker

J Theor Biol. 1998 Jun 21;192(4):455-65. doi: 10.1006/jtbi.1998.0667.


In 1990, Kronauer proposed a mathematical model of the effects of light on the human circadian pacemaker. Although this model predicted many general features of the response of the human circadian pacemaker to light exposure, additional data now available enable us to refine the original model. We first refined the original model by incorporating the results of a dose response curve to light into the model's predicted relationship between light intensity and the strength of the drive onto the pacemaker. Data from three bright light phase resetting experiments were then used to refine the amplitude recovery characteristics of the model. Finally, the model was tested and further refined using data from an extensive phase resetting experiment in which a 3-cycle bright light stimulus was presented against a background of dim light. In order to describe the results of the four resetting experiments, the following major refinements to the original model were necessary: (i) the relationship between light intensity (I) and drive onto the pacemaker was reduced from I1/3 to I0.23 for light levels between 150 and 10,000 lux; (ii) the van der Pol oscillator from the original model was replaced with a higher-order limit cycle oscillator so that amplitude recovery is slower near the singularity and faster near the limit cycle; (iii) a direct effect of light on circadian period (tau x) was incorporated into the model such that as I increases, tau x decreases, which is in accordance with "Aschoff's rule". This refined model generates the following testable predictions: it should be difficult to enhance normal circadian amplitude via bright light; near the critical point of a type 0 phase response curve (PRC) the slope should be steeper than it is in a type 1 PRC; and circadian period measured during forced desynchrony should be directly affected by ambient light intensity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Models, Biological