"This new scientific discovery opens the door to innovative therapies that could act on the different parts of the circadian system so that these rhythms can be adjusted to inverted sleep schedules," said Diane B Boivin, director of the centre for study and treatment of circadian rhythms at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.
For this, the team studied the rhythmic expression of clock genes in white blood cells to see how they adjusted in response to glucocorticoids. The researchers analysed 16 healthy volunteers who were studied in temporal isolation chambers.
The results showed, for the first time, that the peripheral biological clocks located in white blood cells can be synchronised through the administration of glucocorticoid tablets.
"These cells are involved in our body's reaction to attacks from many pathogens. This study suggests that biological rhythms may play a role in controlling immune function in night-shift workers," added co-author Marc Cuesta, post-doctoral fellow. Physiological changes over the course of a day are regulated by a circadian system comprised of a central clock located deep within the centre of the brain and multiple clocks located in different parts of the body.
Since humans are fundamentally diurnal creatures, staying awake at night can significantly disrupt all of the body's internal biological clocks. Over the long term, this can lead to a high incidence of various health problems, such as metabolic or cardiovascular problems or even certain types of cancer.
The new study was published in The FASEB Journal.