Research Links Healthy Biological Clock To Longevity

March 29, 1999

Aging hamsters who received a new biological clock had their lifespan increased by 20 per cent, proving the importance of circadian rhythms to the health and longevity of an organism.

Once the biological clock of a hamster begins to deteriorate, death occurs within three months. However, when University of Toronto psychologist Martin Ralph transplanted a new clock into hamsters whose own clocks had begun to deteriorate, they lived an average of four months longer than hamsters without the transplant -- roughly a 20 per cent increase in their lifespan.

A biological clock is a small piece of brain tissue that generates a rhythm controlling the day/night behaviour of an organism. When this rhythm breaks down, as it does in many aging humans, it leads to numerous health problems including disrupted sleep patterns and poor body temperature control. Ralph says that while it is highly unlikely humans will ever receive new biological clocks, behaviour modification might achieve similar results.

"If the function of the clock can be mimicked by a structured lifestyle, such as more light during the day and darkness at night, then this will work in the same direction as the transplant works in hamsters," he says.

Ralph collaborated with Mark Hurd of the University of Houston. The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging in the United States and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
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University of Toronto

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