Arts & Sciences

Herzog to test how cortical neurons, hormones regulate daily patterns of behavior

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Research from Washington University in St. Louis will test how these daily patterns are set and maintained through the coordinated activity of certain neurons and hormones.

The five-year $1.98 million project relies on new high-throughput machine learning techniques to determine the roles of cortical neurons and glial cells in distinct, daily activities of mice.


Erik Herzog, PhD, the Viktor Hamburger Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, will lead this research with funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Daily rhythms in rest-activity are well known, but we don’t know how they arise or synchronize to local time,” Herzog said.

“We recently found that cells within the motor cortex can be synchronized to daily cycles of glucocorticoids,” Herzog said. “We will test the roles of specific cells and molecules in producing daily rhythms in cortical neurons and astrocytes and in a variety of behaviors.”

While much previous research on circadian rhythms has focused on a small part of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), this project looks at how the SCN interacts within a framework that includes the larger cortical brain areas — and specifically the motor cortex.

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