Indexed on: 09 Apr '15Published on: 09 Apr '15Published in: Frontiers in endocrinology
Modernization of human society parallels an epidemic of metabolic disorders including obesity. Apart from excess caloric intake, a 24/7 lifestyle poses another important challenge to our metabolic health. Recent research under both laboratory and epidemiological settings has indicated that abnormal temporal organization of sleep and wakeful activities including food intake is a significant risk factor for metabolic disease. The circadian clock system is our intrinsic biological timer that regulates internal rhythms such as the sleep/wake cycle and also responses to external stimuli including light and food. Initially thought to be mainly involved in the timing of sleep, the clock, and/or clock genes may also play a role in sleep architecture and homeostasis. Importantly, an extensive body of evidence has firmly established a master regulatory role of the clock in energy balance. Together, a close relationship between well-timed circadian/sleep cycles and metabolic health is emerging. Exploiting this functional connection, an important holistic strategy toward curbing the epidemic of metabolic disorders (e.g., obesity) involves corrective measures on the circadian clock and sleep. In addition to behavioral and environmental interventions including meal timing and light control, pharmacological agents targeting sleep and circadian clocks promise convenient and effective applications. Recent studies, for example, have reported small molecules targeting specific clock components and displaying robust beneficial effects on sleep and metabolism. Furthermore, a group of clock-amplitude-enhancing small molecules (CEMs) identified via high-throughput chemical screens are of particular interest for future in vivo studies of their metabolic and sleep efficacies. Elucidating the functional relationship between clock, sleep, and metabolism will also have far-reaching implications for various chronic human diseases and aging.