Jet lag, nighttime snacks, lack of sleep, or irregular work schedules can disrupt circadian rhythms. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), circadian rhythm disturbance is a probable carcinogen due to population and laboratory findings.
The new study, published in the high-impact journal Science Advances, describes when the circadian rhythm goes off track, it implicates a cancer marker gene called HSF1, which can trigger lung tumors. The lungs are tightly controlled by circadian rhythms and appear to be particularly vulnerable to disruptions in the biological clock.
The research paper describes the role of HSF1 signaling in a mouse model. This previously unknown mechanism may explain tumor formation in response to rhythm disturbances. The findings also suggest that it may be possible to target HSF1 with drug therapy to prevent cancer in people with frequent circadian rhythm disturbances.
While the study was done in mice, other data has also linked circadian rhythm disturbances to human tumors, said co-author Brian Altman, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical genetics at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a Wilmot faculty member.
“Everything pointed in the same direction,” he said. “In this case, when the mice’s circadian clocks were disrupted by inconsistent sleep, for example, the results were highly correlated with people working night shifts or taking turns,” he said.
Altman’s main contribution to this research is providing expertise in scientific methods to assess how circadian clocks behave in tissues. The Scripps team volunteered to collaborate with Altman after seeing a presentation he gave at a scientific conference on the use of the technology, developed by Dr. Jacob Hughie at Vanderbilt in 2018 Invented by the University of Tsinghua University. Altman and his lab have been focusing on circadian rhythms and the link to cancer for several years.