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Rhythms of the body

Stafford Lightman discusses the mechanisms through which the body achieves oscillating hormone levels and why these are of crucial importance to life.

It is popular myth that biological systems work best in ‘unstressed’ stable conditions in which their chemical processes can tick over smoothly and unchangingly. In this discourse, Stafford Lightman, Professor of Integrative Neuroscience and Endocrinology at the University of Bristol, will challenge this view and suggest that in fact the opposite is true; chemical processes oscillate over various timescales and are critical for the optimal function of biological systems.

Life on earth provides us with an environment that exerts rhythmic external stimuli – 24 hour light:dark cycles, monthly gravitational cycles, yearly temperature and day length cycles. Biological organisms have adapted to these in many ways which for mammals, include sleep/wake activity cycles and fertility cycles.

In addition to cyclical responses to external stimuli, oscillatory changes are also generated within the bodies of simple and complex animals. One of the systems critical for life in mammals is the hormonal hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This is a hormonal system which produces the steroid hormone cortisol in man and regulates our response to stress as well as cognitive function and many metabolic activities. Although previously considered to be a hormonal system that exerts its actions by analogue effects of cortisol concentrations in tissues of the body, it is now becoming clear that cortisol levels oscillate and that these oscillations are critical for optimal bodily function.

Prof Lightman will describe the mechanisms through which the body achieves oscillating hormone levels and why these are so important.


Professor Stafford Lightman | talks | www


Date and Time:

29 October 2010 at 7:45 pm


1 hour 30 minutes



The Royal Institution of Great Britain
21 Albemarle Street
+44 20 74 09 29 92

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