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Human seasonal and circadian studies in Antarctica (Halley, 75°S)

Arendt, Josephine and Middleton, Benita (2017) Human seasonal and circadian studies in Antarctica (Halley, 75°S) General and Comparative Endocrinology, 258. pp. 250-258.

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Living for extended periods in Antarctica exposes base personnel to extremes of daylength (photoperiod) and temperature. At the British Antarctic Survey base of Halley, 75°S, the sun does not rise for 110 d in the winter and does not set for 100 d in summer. Photoperiod is the major time cue governing the timing of seasonal events such as reproduction in many species. The neuroendocrine signal providing photoperiodic information to body physiology is the duration of melatonin secretion which reflects the length of the night: longer in the short days of winter and shorter in summer. Light of sufficient intensity and spectral composition serves to suppress production of melatonin and to set the circadian timing and the duration of the rhythm. In humans early observations suggested that bright (>2000 lux) white light was needed to suppress melatonin completely. Shortly thereafter winter depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD) was described, and its successful treatment by an artificial summer photoperiod of bright white light, sufficient to shorten melatonin production. At Halley dim artificial light intensity during winter was measured, until 2003, at a maximum of approximately 500 lux in winter. Thus a strong seasonal and circadian time cue was absent. It seemed likely that winter depression would be common in the extended period of winter darkness and could be treated with an artificial summer photoperiod. These observations, and predictions, inspired a long series of studies regarding human seasonal and circadian status, and the effects of light treatment, in a small overwintering, isolated community, living in the same conditions for many months at Halley. We found little evidence of SAD, or change in duration of melatonin production with season. However the timing of the melatonin rhythm itself, and/or that of its metabolite 6-sulphatoxymelatonin (aMT6s), was used as a primary marker of seasonal, circadian and treatment changes. A substantial phase delay of melatonin in winter was advanced to summer phase by a two pulse 'skeleton' bright white light treatment. Subsequently a single morning pulse of bright white light was effective with regard to circadian phase and improved daytime performance. The circadian delay evidenced by melatonin was accompanied by delayed sleep (logs and actigraphy): poor sleep is a common complaint in Polar regions. Appropriate extra artificial light, both standard white, and blue enriched, present throughout the day, effectively countered delay in sleep timing and the aMT6s rhythm. The most important factor appeared to be the maximum light experienced. Another manifestation of the winter was a decline in self-rated libido (men only on base at this time). Women on the base showed lower aspects of physical and mental health compared to men. Free-running rhythms were seen in some subjects following night shift, but were rarely found at other times, probably because this base has strongly scheduled activity and leisure time. Complete circadian adaptation during a week of night shift, also seen in a similar situation on North Sea oil rigs, led to problems readapting back to day shift in winter, compared to summer. Here again timed light treatment was used to address the problem. Sleep, alertness and waking performance are critically dependent on optimum circadian phase. Circadian desynchrony is associated with increased risk of major disease in shift workers. These studies provide some groundwork for countering/avoiding circadian desynchrony in rather extreme conditions.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences > School of Biosciences and Medicine
Authors :
Date : 17 May 2017
DOI : 10.1016/j.ygcen.2017.05.010
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2017 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Uncontrolled Keywords : Seasonal; Circadian; Light; Melatonin; Antarctica
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 08 Sep 2017 12:46
Last Modified : 16 Jan 2019 18:56

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