The Nelson Lab for Circadian Rhythms and Sleep studies the effects of disrupted circadian rhythms on several parameters, including immune function, sleep, and mood.
Our lab focuses on the study of biological rhythms. Circadian rhythms are endogenous biological rhythms of about 24 hours and are a fundamental characteristic of life. Although life evolved over the past 3-4 billion years under bright days and dark nights, humans have been able to interrupt this natural light-dark cycle with bright light at night for only about the past 130 years.
Our laboratory studies the effects of these disrupted circadian rhythms on several parameters including immune function, neuroinflammation, metabolism, sleep and mood.
Randy J. Nelson, PhD
Professor and Chair, Department of Neuroscience
Dr. Nelson earned his PhD in Psychology in 1983, and a second PhD in Endocrinology in 1984 from the University of California, Berkeley. He completed his postdoctoral fellowship in reproductive physiology at the University of Texas, Austin.
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Our basic research program addresses the effects of interactions among the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems on health. We work on a number of inflammatory disorders including models of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD; winter depression), cardiovascular diseases, dysregulation of fever, cancer, and stress disorders.
Funded projects include studies of the following topics:
- how does day length change affect development of the immune function and seasonal coping with stressors
- what is the role of day length in brain plasticity including neural birth and death in adult brains, changes in neural connectivity, long-term potentiation, and epigenetic changes
- what is the role of light-at-night on physiological and behavioral responses including immune, metabolic, and affective responses
- what is the interaction between stressors and seasonal immune and disease processes
Current projects in the lab include studies of sickness behaviors, stress and coping, molecular mechanisms of stress, seasonal immune function, photoperiodic regulation of angiogenesis, stress, melatonin, and wound healing.
Another area of research in the lab involves using transgenic mice including those with targeted deletion of specific gene protein products that are involved in motivated behaviors such as reproductive or aggressive behaviors. We currently are working on a variety of knockout mice.
Dominoni DM, Borniger JC, Nelson RJ. 2016 Light at night, clocks and health: from humans to wild organisms. Biology Letters, 12: 20160015.
Bedrosian, T.A., Fonken, L.K., & Nelson, R.J. 2016. Endocrine effects of circadian disruption. Annual Review of Physiology, 78:1-23.
Fonken, L.K. & Nelson, R.J. 2016. Effects of light exposure at night during development. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 7:33-39.
Fonken, L.K. & Nelson, R.J. 2014. Effects of light at night on circadian clocks and metabolism. Endocrine Reviews, 35:648-670.
Bedrosian, T.A., Vaughn, C.A., Galan, A., Daye, Ghassan, Weil, Z.M. & Nelson, R.J. 2013. Night-time light exposure impairs mood in a wavelength-dependent manner. Journal of Neuroscience, 33:13801-13087.
Bedrosian, T.A., Weil, Z.M. & Nelson, R.J. 2013. TNFα is implicated in a reversible depression-like phenotype provoked by chronic dim light at night. Molecular Psychiatry, 18: 930-936.
Bedrosian, T.A. & Nelson, R.J. 2013. Influence of the modern light environment on mood. Molecular Psychiatry, 18: 751-757.
Bedrosian, T.A., Herring, K.L., Weil, Z.M., & Nelson, R.J. 2011. Altered temporal patterns of anxiety in aged and amyloid precursor protein (APP) transgenic mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108:11686-11691.
Fonken, L.K., Xu, X., Weil, Z.M., Chen, G., Sun, Q. Rajagopalan, S., & Nelson, R.J., 2011. Air pollution impairs cognition, provokes depressive-like behaviors and alters hippocampal cytokine expression and morphology. Molecular Psychiatry, 16: 987-995.
Fonken, L.K., Workman, J.L., Walton, J.C., Weil, Z.M., Morris, J.S., Haim, A., & Nelson, R.J.2010. Light at night increases body mass by shifting the time of food intake. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107:18664-18669.
Weil, Z.M., Norman, G.J., DeVries, A.C., Berntson, G.G & Nelson, R.J. 2009. Photoperiod alters autonomic regulation of the heart. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106: 4525-4530.
Weil, Z.M., Norman, G.J., Barker, J.M., Su, A.J., Nelson, R.J. & DeVries, A.C. 2008. Social isolation potentiates cell death and inflammatory responses after global ischemia. Molecular Psychiatry, 13: 913-917.
Weil, Z.M., Norman, G.J., DeVries, A.C. & Nelson, R.J. 2008. The injured nervous system: A Darwinian perspective. Progress in Neurobiology, 86: 48–59.
Nelson, R.J. & Trainor. B.C. 2007. Neural mechanisms of aggression. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8: 536-546.
Trainor, B.C., Lin, S., Finy, M.S., Rowland, M.R. & Nelson, R.J. 2007. Photoperiod reverses the effects of estrogen on male aggression via genomic and non-genomic pathways. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104: 9840-9845.