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Circadian Rhythms and Aging Processes


Our IGERT is the first that has aging as its thematic focus. Our trainees are working with world class scientists to understand aging from the cellular to societal levels. Professor Giebultowicz and IGERT trainee Kuntol Rakshit have conducted research that explores how circadian rhythms may affect basic aging processes at the genetic level, as well as the behavioral level. They use fruitflies to investigate how biological clocks change with age. Their work has determined that biological clocks in older organisms become weakened due to reduced expression of certain clock genes. The challenging question they have addressed is whether aging clock mechanism can be repaired by genetic manipulations, leading to improved sleep activity rhythms and better brain health.

Participation in the IGERT program inspired their research team to initiate research in two new directions: 1) they investigated whether age-related disruptions of biological clocks weakens motor performance and they found that it did; 2) they became interested in the effects of stress and devised a non-lethal stressor to see the effects on lifespan and found that it negatively affected lifespan in flies with disrupted circadian clocks. These studies were directly linked to the interdisciplinary nature of our IGERT that provided a broader perspective inspiring new directions for their research. This research is important because biological clocks coordinate many cellular and physiological functions, and their disruption is connected to metabolic and neurological diseases in humans. Because the clock genes have similar mechanisms in flies and humans, this research may lead to breakthroughs in understanding how strong biological clocks may prevent age-related diseases. Kuntol Rakshit, the IGERT trainee, was a winner of the IGERT video/poster award that explains this groundbreaking approach to aging research. Here is the link to his award winning video:

Address Goals

The research on circadian rhythms is a novel approach for understanding the biological and physical effects of aging that could be important for understanding basic mechanisms underlying human health in later life. Translational research with humans needs to be conducted, but we are learning in a model organism (fruitflies) that optimizing circadian rhythms may be a preventive intervention that could lessen cognitive declines associated with normal aging, as well as more severe declines associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.