Chronobiology and chronotherapy in medicine.


Journal Article (Review)

There is a fascinating and exceedingly important area of medicine that most of us have not been exposed to at any level of our medical training. This relatively new area is termed chronobiology; that is, how time-related events shape our daily biologic responses and apply to any aspect of medicine with regard to altering pathophysiology and treatment response. For example, normally occurring circadian (daily cycles, approximately 24 hours) events, such as nadirs in epinephrine and cortisol levels that occur in the body around 10 PM to 4 AM and elevated histamine and other mediator levels that occur between midnight and 4 AM, play a major role in the worsening of asthma during the night. In fact, this nocturnal exacerbation occurs in the majority of asthmatic patients. Because all biologic functions, including those of cells, organs, and the entire body, have circadian, ultradian (less than 22 hours), or infradian (greater than 26 hours) rhythms, understanding the pathophysiology and treatment of disease needs to be viewed with these changes in mind. Biologic rhythms are ingrained, and although they can be changed over time by changing the wake-sleep cycle, these alterations occur over days. However, sleep itself can adversely affect the pathophysiology of disease. The non-light/dark influence of biologic rhythms was first described in 1729 by the French astronomer Jean-Jacques de Mairan. Previously, it was presumed that the small red flowers of the plant Kalanchoe bloss feldiuna opened in the day because of the sunlight and closed at night because of the darkness. When de Mairan placed the plant in total darkness, the opening and closing of the flowers still occurred on its intrinsic circadian basis. It is intriguing to think about how the time of day governs the pathophysiology of disease. On awakening in the morning, heart rate and blood pressure briskly increase, as do platelet aggregability and other clotting factors. This can be linked to the acrophase (peak event) of heart attacks. During the afternoon we hit our best mental and physical performance, which explains why most of us state that "I am not a morning person." Even the tolerance for alcohol varies over the 24-hour cycle, with best tolerance around 5 pm (i.e. "Doctor, I only have a couple of highballs before dinner"). Thus, all biologic functions, from those of the cell, the tissue, the organs, and the entire body, run on a cycle of altering activity and function.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Kraft, M; Martin, RJ

Published Date

  • August 1995

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 41 / 8

Start / End Page

  • 506 - 575

PubMed ID

  • 7628291

Pubmed Central ID

  • 7628291

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1557-8194

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0011-5029

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/s0011-5029(95)90036-5


  • eng