It’s About Time: The Circadian Network as Time-Keeper for Cognitive Functioning, Locomotor Activity and Mental Health

Müge Yalçin, Annakarina Mundorf, Freya Thiel, Sandra Amatriain-Fernández, Ida Schulze Kalthoff, Jan Carl Beucke, Henning Budde, Susan Garthus-Niegel, Jutta Peterburs, Angela Relógio

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


A variety of organisms including mammals have evolved a 24h, self-sustained timekeeping machinery known as the circadian clock (biological clock), which enables to anticipate, respond, and adapt to environmental influences such as the daily light and dark cycles. Proper functioning of the clock plays a pivotal role in the temporal regulation of a wide range of cellular, physiological, and behavioural processes. The disruption of circadian rhythms was found to be associated with the onset and progression of several pathologies including sleep and mental disorders, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Thus, the role of the circadian clock in health and disease, and its clinical applications, have gained increasing attention, but the exact mechanisms underlying temporal regulation require further work and the integration of evidence from different research fields. In this review, we address the current knowledge regarding the functioning of molecular circuits as generators of circadian rhythms and the essential role of circadian synchrony in a healthy organism. In particular, we discuss the role of circadian regulation in the context of behaviour and cognitive functioning, delineating how the loss of this tight interplay is linked to pathological development with a focus on mental disorders and neurodegeneration. We further describe emerging new aspects on the link between the circadian clock and physical exercise-induced cognitive functioning, and its current usage as circadian activator with a positive impact in delaying the progression of certain pathologies including neurodegeneration and brain-related disorders. Finally, we discuss recent epidemiological evidence pointing to an important role of the circadian clock in mental health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number873237
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
StatePublished - Apr 25 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • circadian clock network
  • circadian dysregulation
  • circadian medicine
  • mental health
  • neurocognitive functioning
  • neurodegenerative disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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