Ruby Leading Research Study on Alcohol and Circadian Rhythms

Posted on 12/19/2016 11:17:49 AM

Christina Ruby Leading Research Study on Alcohol and Circadian RhythmAccording to the results of a study led by an Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor, it’s not your imagination: it is harder for adults than teenagers to recover from the effects of too much alcohol when it comes to sleep-wake patterns.

Christina Ruby, a member of the biology faculty, is the first author of a study, “Differential Sensitivity to Ethanol-Induced Circadian Rhythm disruption in Adolescent and Adult Mice.” The study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Four IUP undergraduate students worked closely with Ruby on the project and are co-authors on the study: Kaitlyn Palmer, a biology major from Indiana; Jiawen Zhang, a mathematics major from China; Megan Risinger, a nursing major from Creekside; and Melissa Butkowski, a biochemistry 2016 graduate from Bethlehem. Ruby and the IUP students also worked with Scott Swartzwelder from Duke University, who also is a co-author on the study.

“There have been certain studies that have been done in humans that are similar,” Ruby said.
“Even though mice are different than humans, in that they are nocturnal, circadian rhythms are regulated in exactly the same way in mice as they are in humans.”

Light synchronizes humans with our environment, and that happens for mice and other mammals: the rules are exactly the same, Ruby explained.

Ruby, who came to IUP three years ago after working at the Mayo Clinic, was pursuing grant funding for a project studying the effects of alcohol and caffeine together.

“Most of the people that drink alcohol and caffeinated beverages together are young adults, especially college-aged young adults,” she said. “So, I decided to shift my research focus to look at younger (adolescent) animal models.”

Around the time that Ruby decided on this focus for her work, she received an inquiry from Erik Herzog, a professor at Washington University that studies circadian rhythms. Herzog put Ruby in touch with Swartzwelder, who had done research showing that adolescent rats were less sensitive to the intoxicating effects of alcohol than adult mice. He also found that adolescent rodents are more sensitive to alcohol-induced memory impairment. “This combination of insensitivity to intoxication and enhanced sensitivity to memory problems makes alcohol especially dangerous in adolescents,” she said.

“This research suggests that the adolescent mice, in addition to their alcohol use having less impact on the sleep-wake cycle, don’t realize they are becoming impaired, and that’s one of the reasons why adolescents—both animals and humans—drink more than adults. Adolescents feel the consequences less than adults do,” Ruby said, especially in the area of disruption of their circadian rhythms.

While Ruby has been interested and working on projects related to this topic for 10 years, this particular study was done completely at IUP.

“There were a lot of IUP undergraduate students involved with this study, and they are all very excited to be co-authors on the paper. These students do a lot of independent work, but we work on the experiments together, so they understand the why of what we are doing.”

Photo Information: Pictured from left, Jiawen Zhang, a mathematics major from China; Megan Risinger, a nursing major from Creekside; Christina Ruby; and Kaitlyn Palmer, a biology major from Indiana, in the lab at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Department of Biology