Compelling reasons to study the role of sex in the circadian system include the higher rates of sleep disorders in women than in men and evidence that sex steroids modulate circadian control of locomotor activity. To address the issue of sex differences in the circadian system, we examined daily and circadian rhythms in wheel-running activity, electrical activity within the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and PER2::LUC-driven bioluminescence of gonadally-intact adult male and female C57BL/6J mice. We observed greater precision of activity onset in 12-hour light, 12-hour dark cycle for male mice, longer activity duration in 24 hours of constant darkness for female mice, and phase-delayed PER2::LUC bioluminescence rhythm in female pituitary and liver. Next, in order to investigate whether sex differences in behavior are sex chromosome or gonadal sex dependent, we used the 4 core genotypes (FCG) mouse model, in which sex chromosome complement is independent of gonadal phenotype. Gonadal males had more androgen receptor expression in the suprachiasmatic nucleus and behaviorally reduced photic phase shift response compared with gonadal female FCG mice. Removal of circulating gonadal hormones in adults, to test activational vs organizational effects of sex revealed that XX animals have longer activity duration than XY animals regardless of gonadal phenotype. Additionally, we observed that the activational effects of gonadal hormones were more important for regulating activity levels in gonadal male mice than in gonadal female FCG mice. Taken together, sex differences in the circadian rhythms of activity, neuronal physiology, and gene expression were subtle but provide important clues for understanding the pathophysiology of the circadian system.
Sleep and circadian disruptions are commonly reported by patients with neurodegenerative diseases, suggesting these may be an endophenotype of the disorders. Several mouse models of Huntingtons disease (HD) that recapitulate the disease progression and motor dysfunction of HD also exhibit sleep and circadian rhythm disruption. Of these, the strongest effects are observed in the transgenic models with multiple copies of mutant huntingtin gene. For developing treatments of the human disease, knock-in (KI) models offer advantages of genetic precision of the insertion and control of mutation copy number. Therefore, we assayed locomotor activity and immobility-defined sleep in a new model of HD with an expansion of the KI repeats (Q175). We found evidence for gene dose- and age-dependent circadian disruption in the behavior of the Q175 line. We did not see evidence for loss of cells or disruption of the molecular oscillator in the master pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The combination of the precise genetic targeting in the Q175 model and the observed sleep and circadian disruptions make it tractable to study the interaction of the underlying pathology of HD and the mechanisms by which the disruptions occur.
Many Parkinsons disease (PD) patients exhibit sleep disorders as part of their symptoms with evidence suggesting that REM sleep disorders may be intimately associated with this disease. Possible dysfunction in the circadian system in PD has received less attention, yet problems in circadian timing are common in neurodegenerative diseases. In the present study, we examined the expression of daily and circadian rhythms in the alpha-synuclein overexpressing (ASO) transgenic line. We found selective deficits in the expression of circadian rhythms of locomotor activity, including lower night-time activity and greater fragmentation in the wheel-running activity in this PD model. These alterations were prominent in young adult (3-4 mo) ASO mice and worsened progressively with age, consistent with prior reports of age-related loss of motor skills. The temporal distribution of sleep was also altered in the ASO mice compared to littermate controls. In the ASO mice, the peak/trough expression of the clock gene PERIOD2 was normal in the master pacemaker of the circadian system: the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN); however, the daytime firing rate of SCN neurons was reduced in the mutant mice. Together, this data raises the possibility that a weakening of circadian output is a core feature of PD. The reduction in magnitude of circadian output would be expected to have functional consequences throughout the body.
The circadian system co-ordinates the temporal patterning of behaviour and many underlying biological processes. In some cases, the regulated outputs of the circadian system, such as activity, may be able to feed back to alter core clock processes. In our studies, we used four wheel-access conditions (no access; free access; early night; and late night) to manipulate the duration and timing of activity while under the influence of a light-dark cycle. In wild-type mice, scheduled wheel access was able to increase ambulatory activity, inducing a level of exercise driven at various phases of the light-dark cycle. Scheduled exercise also manipulated the magnitude and phasing of the circadian-regulated outputs of heart rate and body temperature. At a molecular level, the phasing and amplitude of PER2::LUCIFERASE (PER2::LUC) expression rhythms in the SCN and peripheral tissues of Per2::Luc knockin mice were altered by scheduled exercise. We then tested whether scheduled wheel access could improve deficits observed in vasointestinal polypeptide-deficient mice under the influence of a light-dark cycle. We found that scheduled wheel access during the late night improved many of the behavioural, physiological and molecular deficits previously described in vasointestinal polypeptide-deficient mice. Our results raise the possibility that scheduled exercise could be used as a tool to modulate daily rhythms and, when applied, may counteract some of the negative impacts of ageing and disease on the circadian system.
Sleep disorders are common in neurodegenerative diseases including Huntingtons disease (HD) and develop early in the disease process. Mitochondrial alterations are believed to play a critical role in the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative diseases. In the present study, we evaluated the circadian system of mice after inhibiting the mitochondrial complex II of the respiratory chain with the toxin 3-nitropropionic acid (3-NP). We found that a subset of mice treated with low doses of 3-NP exhibited severe circadian deficit in behavior. The temporal patterning of sleep behavior is also disrupted in some mice with evidence of difficulty in the initiation of sleep behavior. Using the open field test during the normal sleep phase, we found that the 3-NP treated mice were hyperactive. The molecular clockwork responsible for the generation of circadian rhythms as measured by PER2::LUCIFERASE was disrupted in a subset of mice. Within the SCN, the 3-NP treatment resulted in a reduction in daytime firing rate in the subset of mice which had a behavioral deficit. Anatomically, we confirmed that all of the treated mice showed evidence for cell loss within the striatum but we did not see evidence for gross SCN pathology. Together, the data demonstrates that chronic treatment with low doses of the mitochondrial toxin 3-NP produced circadian deficits in a subset of treated mice. This work does raise the possibility that the neural damage produced by mitochondrial dysfunction can contribute to the sleep/circadian dysfunction seen so commonly in neurodegenerative diseases.
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