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JENNIFER EVANS, PH.D.

Associate Professor

Department of Biomedical Sciences

Dr. Evans received her graduate degree in psychology from the University of California, San Diego. After graduation, she was awarded a two-year faculty fellowship from the University of California to expand her research and teach at the undergraduate level. She then conducted her postdoctoral research at the Morehouse School of Medicine, where she investigated the functional organization of neural circuits that drive daily rhythms in behavior and physiology.

 

Our lab investigates neural circuits that generate daily rhythms. 

 

Daily rhythms influence human health in many ways, dictating when it is best to sleep, eat, exercise, study, and take life-saving treatments. Our 24/7 society can disrupt daily rhythms to increase risk for many diseases, including cancer, diabetes, infertility, and neurodegeneration. The key to preventing this pathology is to better understand how daily rhythms are orchestrated. Generated endogenously, daily rhythms are produced by “clock cells” that track the hours of the day through a molecular mechanism encoded at the genetic level. In fact, almost every cell in our body is a clock. These manifold clock cells form an integrated system, regulated by a central clock in the brain that processes light input from the retina. Despite gains made in understanding the molecular gears of the clock, it remains unclear how clock cells communicate with one another to maintain integrated function and prevent pathology.   

 

In our lab, we map neural circuits in the central brain clock to better understand what makes this network tick. Over the years, our work has successfully decoded the dynamic process of neural communication in the central clock and uncovered new signaling molecules important for sustaining its function. Most recently, we have shown that light exposure can rewire the circuitry of the central clock in ways that differ between males and females. Our continued goal is to better understand the functional architecture of the central clock, how its circuitry is influenced by biological sex, and how plasticity in clock function is linked to pathology caused by aberrant light exposure (e.g., nighttime light from electronic devices, shiftwork, changing seasons). 

Lab personnel:

  • Deborah Joye (graduate student)

  • Alec Huber (lab manager)  

  • Julia Evans (technician)

Current projects:

  • Do different types of central clock neurons play specific roles in the network? 

  • Does the central clock process light differently in males and females? 

  • How does the central clock regulate cellular function in downstream tissues?  

@CircaJennEvans