Clock Genes and Mood Disorders2022-07-09

There can be no transformation of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.

—Carl Jung

Clock genes synchronize the levels of activity of an organism to the environment (light, food, heat). This way, an organism can be active when the environment is favorable and there are resources that can be used, and less active when the environment is not favorable and there is a lack of resources. They are present from unicellular organisms all the way to humans. The levels of expression of clock genes changes through-out the day (circadian), as well as seasonally. To date, it is estimated that up to half the genes in an organism are clock genes or controlled directly or indirectly by them. As such, they have profound effects on physical and mental health.

My group was the first to identify over two decades ago a clock gene, DBP, as involved in mood disorders, and since then we and others have identified through a variety of human and animal model studies, genetic and gene expression, a whole series of clock genes involved in mood disorders, as well as in other mental health conditions and behaviors (such as suicidality). Mood in essence is activity, and the core mechanisms for mood regulation are governed by clock genes. Their expression acts as a thermostat, regulating levels of activity. Mood disorders occur when the clock gene mechanisms are dysregulated, leading to excessive or incongruent levels of activity in relationship with the environment- being (over-)active when you should not be, as in mania, or being (under-)active when you should be active, as in depression.

Our work over the years has shown that medications (such as mood stabilizers) and nutraceuticals (such as omega-3 fatty acids) can be used to normalize the activity of the clock gene machinery. Blood tests for gene expression biomarkers can match individuals with the right treatments. As important, lifestyle changes (exercising outdoors in the mornings, avoiding light and food late at night, practicing good sleep habits, moving to sunnier climes) can affect mood, and general health, powerfully.

Live. Happier. Longer.