Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Regularly scheduled voluntary exercise synchronizes the mouse circadian clock

D. M. Edgar, W. C. Dement


Circadian rhythm entrainment has long been thought to depend exclusively on periodic cues in the external environment. However, evidence now suggests that appropriately timed vigorous activity may also phase shift the circadian clock. Previously it was not known whether levels of exercise/activity associated with spontaneous behavior provided sufficient feedback to phase shift or synchronize circadian rhythms. The present study investigated this issue by monitoring the sleep-wake, drinking, and wheel-running circadian rhythms of mice (Mus musculus) during unrestricted access to running wheels and when free wheel rotation was limited to either 12- or 6-h intervals with a fixed period of 24 h. Wheel rotation was controlled remotely. Mice spontaneously ran in wheels during scheduled access, and free-running sleep-wake and drinking circadian rhythms became entrained to scheduled exercise in 11 of 15 animals. However, steady-state entrainment was achieved only when exercise commenced several hours into the subjective night. The temporal placement of running during entrainment was related (r = 0.7003, P less than 0.02) to free-running period before entrainment. Mice with a free-running period less than 23.0 h did not entrain but exhibited relative coordination between free-running variables and the wheel availability schedule. Thus the circadian timekeeping system responds to temporal feedback arising from the timing of volitional exercise/activity, suggesting that the biological clock not only is responsive to periodic geophysical events in the external environment but also derives physiological feedback from the spontaneous activity behaviors of the organism.