Exploring the biological clock

by YPU Admin on December 16, 2013. Tags: biology, Neuroscience, PhD, and Research


My name is Joe and I am a final year PhD student at the University of Manchester where I study Neuroscience. Having finished my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and History, I applied to study Zoology in Manchester.  Once accepted, I deferred the start of my degree for a year to fulfil a childhood dream to travel the length of South America while attempting to learn Spanish along the way - albeit pretty badly.

Having survived my travels, I finished my undergraduate course with a first class degree and decided to carry on my studies at Manchester through a research masters in Integrative Biology. It was during this time that I ended up on a laboratory-based project with my current supervisor and I became interested in the field of biological rhythms and their role in neurological disorders. Almost four years on, I am still focused on trying to understand how changes to your body’s biological clock within your brain can contribute to the unusual behaviour seen in bipolar disorder.

In Depth

As you have continued reading, I imagine you may be wondering what are biological clocks and what do they have to do with bipolar disorder?  As we live on a planet that rotates over a 24-hour cycle, all organisms are subjected to daily changes in light, temperature and many other factors important to life. Almost every species on earth has responded to these environmental changes with the slow evolution of biological clocks that allow us to anticipate these daily cycles. These clocks are made up of genes and proteins that strictly control the timing of cellular and body processes.

In humans and mammals, these biological clocks now exist in a deep part of our brains as two dense clusters of brain cells known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei. These tiny but intricate structures strictly control the timing of almost everything in our bodies, from when we wake up to when our hormones are released. They also they let our cells know when they need to do specific jobs at different times of the day. When these biological clocks go wrong, there is a growing amount of evidence that has shown you are much more likely to become ill.

Illnesses that have been linked to faulty body clocks are quite varied but include neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People with these diseases very often have highly disturbed sleep-wake rhythms, often sleeping much less, or waking up a lot during the night and we think that faulty body clocks might be to blame.

My work focuses on trying to understand how molecular and electrical activity changes in the suprachiasmatic nuclei during bipolar disorder and whether any such changes in biological rhythms may contribute to disruptions in our daily behaviour. As many drugs that can change our body clocks are being rapidly discovered, we hope that this type of work will pave the way for the use of new medicines that improve body rhythms to help treat people with bipolar disorder and other similar neurological problems.

Going Further

Find out what’s going on in Manchester’s vibrant Neuroscience department here.

The University of Manchester’s Neuroscience course page, where you can find out about what you can study and what you need to do if you are interested.

Find out what type of body clock you have here and compare yourself to others around the world via this global questionnaire, set up by the world’s most prominent biological rhythm researchers:

The Guardian’s two Neuroscience blogs, with some nice articles on the most recent advances and stories in the field - click here and here.

Take a look at the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) for up-to-date news and information from the UK’s biggest Neuroscience organisation.

Only for the most intrepid minds out there! A link to the most prominent neuroscience journal out there including a weekly open-access article (you need to pay to read these normally). Don’t be put off by the crazy language as you will only really understand this after years of study, but you can get an idea of what real neuroscience looks like here.

comments powered by Disqus