Genetics and epigenetics of circadian rhythms and their potential roles in neuropsychiatric disorders

Chunyu Liu1,2, Michael Chung2

1State Key Laboratory of Medical Genetics of China, Changsha 410078, China
2Department of Psychiatry, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Corresponding author: Chunyu Liu. E-mail:

Circadian rhythm alterations have been implicated in multiple neuropsychiatric disorders, particularly those of sleep, addiction, anxiety, and mood. Circadian rhythms are known to be maintained by a set of classic clock genes that form complex mutual and self-regulatory loops. While many other genes showing rhythmic expression have been identified by genome-wide studies, their roles in circadian regulation remain largely unknown. In attempts to directly connect circadian rhythms with neuropsychiatric disorders, genetic studies have identified gene mutations associated with several rare sleep disorders or sleep-related traits. Other than that, genetic studies of circadian genes in psychiatric disorders have had limited success. As an important mediator of environmental factors and regulators of circadian rhythms, the epigenetic system may hold the key to the etiology or pathology of psychiatric disorders, their subtypes or endophenotypes. Epigenomic regulation of the circadian system and the related changes have not been thoroughly explored in the context of neuropsychiatric disorders. We argue for systematic investigation of the circadian system, particularly epigenetic regulation, and its involvement in neuropsychiatric disorders to improve our understanding of human behavior and disease etiology.

Keywords: epigenetics; circadian rhythms; neuropsychiatry

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