Simulated shift work in rats perturbs multiscale regulation of locomotor activity

Wan-Hsin Hsieh, Carolina Escobar, Tatiana Yugay, Men-Tzung Lo, Benjamin Pittman-Polletta, Roberto Salgado-Delgado, Frank A. J. L. Scheer, Steven A. Shea, Ruud M. Buijs, Kun Hu


Motor activity possesses a multiscale regulation that is characterized by fractal activity fluctuations with similar structure across a wide range of timescales spanning minutes to hours. Fractal activity patterns are disturbed in animals after ablating the master circadian pacemaker (suprachiasmatic nucleus, SCN) and in humans with SCN dysfunction as occurs with aging and in dementia, suggesting the crucial role of the circadian system in the multiscale activity regulation. We hypothesized that the normal synchronization between behavioural cycles and the SCN-generated circadian rhythms is required for multiscale activity regulation. To test the hypothesis, we studied activity fluctuations of rats in a simulated shift work protocol that was designed to force animals to be active during the habitual resting phase of the circadian/daily cycle. We found that these animals had gradually decreased mean activity level and reduced 24-h activity rhythm amplitude, indicating disturbed circadian and behavioural cycles. Moreover, these animals had disrupted fractal activity patterns as characterized by more random activity fluctuations at multiple timescales from 4 to 12 h. Intriguingly, these activity disturbances exacerbated when the shift work schedule lasted longer and persisted even in the normal days (without forced activity) following the shift work. The disrupted circadian and fractal patterns resemble those of SCN-lesioned animals and of human patients with dementia, suggesting a detrimental impact of shift work on multiscale activity regulation.

  • Received March 28, 2014.
  • Accepted April 17, 2014.
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