Category Archives: angiotensin

LIGHT, Leptin, and Environmental Mismatch

For a long time, the melanocortin system was basically thought to control the color of skin and hair.  It still does, and many redheads are redheaded due to polymorphisms in one of the melanocortin receptors.

Fast forward to 2015: to make a long story short, melanocortins are HUGE players in circadian biology.




Brief background (also see figure above):

Fed state -> high leptin -> a-MSH -> MC4R (the receptor for a-MSH) = satiety, energy production, fertility, etc.

Fasted state -> low leptin -> AgRP blocks MC4R = hunger, energy conservation, etc.

MC4R polymorphisms in humans are associated with obesity.  Melanotan II causes skin darkening (marketed as “photoprotection” [no bueno, imo]), enhanced libido, and appetite suppression.


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Meal timing and peripheral circadian clocks

More on why breakfast in the morning, with light onset is important to avoid circadian desynchrony.

FOOD is excellent at entraining peripheral circadian clocks: if you restrict animals to one meal per day, their peripheral circadian clocks rapidly become entrained to this, regardless of when the meal is administered (Hirao et al., 2010):


zeitgeber entraining

ZT0 = “zeitgeber time 0,” or “lights on.” pZT indicates a phase shift coinciding almost exactly with meal timing. Mice normally eat at night, but this doesn’t stop their peripheral clocks from entraining to the day time if that’s when their fed.

This study took it to the next level: they fed 2 meals per day, varying in size, time of day, and duration between meals in almost every conceivable combination.  Actually, it was a quite epic study… some poor grad students working, literally, around the clock, for months…

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Circadian Mismatch and Chronopharmacology

Part I: Circadian Mismatch

1. Artificial light at night suppresses melatonin (Lewy et al., 1980); induces “circadian mismatch.”

2. Circadian mismatch is associated with and/or predisposes to breast cancer (eg, He et al., 2014 and Yang et al., 2014).

3. In this epic study, human breast cancer xenografts were exposed to blood taken from healthy, pre-menopausal women during the day (melatonin-depleted), at night (high melatonin), or at night after light exposure (melatonin-depleted) (Blask et al., 2005). They showed that tumors exposed to melatonin-depleted blood exhibited higher proliferative activity than those exposed to melatonin-repleted blood. This has been deemed one of the most “ethical” studies to demonstrate a causal link between circadian mismatch and cancer.

4. And to make matters worse, circadian mismatch also reduces the efficacy of cancer drug therapy (Dauchy et al., 2014).  This study showed that, in a rodent model of breast cancer, exposure to light at night (circadian mismatch) enhanced tumor development and induced tamoxifen-resistance, and this was abolished by melatonin replacement.


They also suggested a mechanism: tumors metabolize linoleate into the mitogen 13-HODE.  Melatonin suppresses linoleate uptake.

linoleate 13-HODE



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Pharmaceutical-grade circadian enhancement?

Is it possible to improve the amplitude and resiliency of your circadian rhythms?  Is this desirable?  Yes and yes, I think.

Go the fuck to sleep.png


Introducing, the aMUPA mice (Froy et al., 2006).  What you need to know about ’em: they have very robust circadian rhythms.  How is this assessed?  Take some mice acclimated to their normal 12 hour light-dark cycle (LD) and place them in constant darkness (DD).  Then take liver biopsies and measure circadian genes to see how well they still oscillate throughout the dark day; this is also known as the free-running clock, and it craps out differently in different tissues depending on a variety of factors.  Most of the time, however, it’ll run for a few days in the absence of light.  Circadian meal timing also helps to hasten re-entrainment.

Note in the figure below: 1) there are two distinct lines of aMUPA mice; and 2) both exhibit a greater amplitude in circadian oscillations during free-running, or DD conditions.

strong circadian rhythms


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Circadian phase delays and metabolism

Remember the “jet lag-resistant” mice?  Guess what: screw with circadian biology and metabolism pays the price.

In brief, vasopressin was classically thought of as an anti-hypotensive hormone.  The vasopressin analog Desmopressin is used to treat bed-wetting.  But vasopressin biology is much more interesting than that: mice lacking both vasopressin receptors require very little time adapting to large circadian phase changes.  And as with many fundamental concepts in chronobiology, this is intimately linked with metabolism.

People with certain polymorphisms of the vasopressin receptor, V1A, exhibit elevated blood glucose levels and are at greater risk for diabetes (Enhorning et al., 2009):


This risk is strongest in men in the highest quartile of fat intake, and is statistically more significant after adjusting for age and physical activity:

Fat consumption

This study wasn’t designed to be a very powerful indicator of diet-disease relationships, but a little speculation: some think higher fat [and lower carb] intake should be protective against diabetes… which may be true, for people who can tell time.  Alter one nucleotide in the vasopressin 1A receptor gene and the game changes.

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Circadian disruptions impact behavior and metabolism in a tissue-specific manner.

The control of circadian gene expression is complex, with layer upon layer of suppressors and enhancers, numerous transcription factors, and a lot of interactions.  A gross oversimplification: Clock and Bmal1 are positive regulators of circadian gene expression; Per and Cry are negative (you don’t really need to know any of this).


Some pretty cool progress has been made in examining the effects of global and tissue-specific deletion of circadian rhythm-related transcription factors.  Bear with me :)

For example, global Bmal1 knockout mice (ie, mice that don’t express Bmal1 anywhere in their whole body.  Zero Bmal1.  Nil.) (Lamia et al., 2008).  These mice are obese, and exhibit impaired glucose tolerance yet improved insulin sensitivity.

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Circadian biology: jet lag, mood, & potential role of BP regulatory peptides

There are enough connections here to suggest it’s an interesting rabbit hole.  Besides the effects of ARBs & desmopressin on mood and cognition, blood pressure regulation is not interesting <– fact.  But if it ties into fertility, circadian biology, and seasonal changes in how we should be doing things…

Way back in 1998 when I was graduating high school, Murphy and colleagues were screwing with “light-entrainable” and “food-entrainable” oscillators of circadian rhythmicity (1998).  They did this in two lines of rats, one with intact vasopressin signaling and one without.  With little mechanistic work, they showed vasopressin mediates circadian effects driven by light; and rats without vasopressin were more entrainable by meal timing.  N.B. in addition to the posterior pituitary, vasopressin is also found in the famous circadian light-regulated SCN neurons (Rosving 2010).

While it is speculated to play a role in social behaviors and sexual motivation, vasopressin is primarily known for its anti-hypotensive effects.  When plasma volume drops, vasopressin is secreted to decrease urinary water loss and increase blood pressure.  This is antagonized by alcohol, which is thought to be one reason why alcohol can dehydrate you.

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