Overhead shot of person sleeping in bed

The body clock and its impact on lung disease

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The circadian clock, often referred to as the ‘body clock’, is the name given to the 24-hour cycles in the body that are impacted by the sun’s light/dark cycle.

This body clock helps to regulate processes within the body such as sleep/wake cycles, hormonal activity, body temperature, eating and digesting.

Disruption to the body clock caused by shift work, erratic sleeping or eating patterns for example has been linked to conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease seasonal affective disorder and insomnia.

Researchers at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, have now discovered how disruption of the body clock can impact on chronic lung disease and respiratory infections.

Published in The FASEB Journal, the research looked at the clock in fibroblasts, a cell type which is numerous in the lung. It found that disturbing the circadian clock in mice challenged with a bacterial component causes the fibroblasts to recruit more immune cells than are needed to the lungs, resulting in increased inflammation and worse outcomes.

The results indicate that shift workers and those with erratic sleeping or eating patterns are more likely to experience more severe respiratory infections.

The findings pinpoint lung fibroblasts as a potential target in the development of therapies and treatment of lung diseases that display this kind of inflammation. This is a change in approach from most current therapeutic options that focus on easing symptoms rather than treating the cause.

The majority of this study was supported through funding provided to Professor Annie Curtis by the Science Foundation Ireland Career Development Award (CDA) programme and by the Irish Research Council through a Laureate Award.

Further support was provided by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute grant, a Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds travel grant and an RCSI School of Postgraduate Studies International Secondment Award.

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.