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Can your liver sense it when you are staring at a television screen or cellphone late at night? It seems so, and when such activity is detected, the organ can throw your circadian rhythms(the sleep/wake cycle) out of whack, leaving you more susceptible to health problems.

Two recent studies by the University of California, Irvine scientists working in collaboration with the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, Spain suggests that organs can respond to day and night, independently from the brain.

The study was published in the science journal Cell. The researchers had used specially bred mice to study the network of internal clocks that control metabolism. Though from the beginning, scientists had suspected that various circadian clocks of the body can function independently from the central clock in the hypothalamus of the brain, there was previously no way to test the theory, said Paolo Sassone-Corsi, director of UCI’s Center for Epigenetics and Metabolism and senior author of one of the studies.

“The results were quite surprising,” said Sassone-Corsi, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Chemistry. “No one realized that the liver or skin could be so directly affected by light.”

“The future implications of our findings are vast,” he noted. “With these mice, we can now begin deciphering the metabolic pathways that control our circadian rhythms, ageing processes and general well-being.”

Because of modern lifestyles, it’s easy for people’s circadian systems to get confused, he said. In turn, that can lead to depression, allergies, premature ageing, cancer and other health problems. Further mice experiments could uncover ways to make human internal clocks “less misaligned,” Sassone-Corsi added.

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