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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Northwestern: Connection Between Circadian Rhythm and Hunger Discovered

Northwestern Medicine scientists have explained how circadian rhythm regulates hunger, a long-suspected connection that was confirmed by the study published in Cell Metabolism.

The scientists traced the regulation to a group of neurons in the hypothalamus, a brain region that coordinates autonomic functions like body temperature, thirst and hunger.

“We identified one of the places in the brain where the drive for hunger is coordinated when you’re awake and when you’re asleep,” said Dr. Joseph Bass, the Charles F. Kettering Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, director of the Center for Diabetes and Metabolism and senior author of the study. “It’s sort of like a relay station.”

Mammalian circadian rhythm is regulated by a complex gene transcription feedback loop, a Nobel-prize winning discovery that evolved from initial findings of Northwestern studies published in the 2000s. Specialized cells detect light or darkness, and through gene transcription set a day and night cycle that influences a variety of functions. While earlier studies had hinted at how circadian rhythm regulated hunger, the exact molecular pathway was unknown.

“We didn’t know much about how that timing process influenced our appetite or how the body metabolizes what we eat,” said Dr. Bass.

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