[Illinois] MCB 529 BRH Biological Rhythms in Health and Disease

By Martha U. Gillette

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign



Published on


Spring 2013

From the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology (UIUC):

Our major research thrusts are to understand: 1) signals that engage the circadian clockwork in the brain, 2) sub-cellular micro-environments that shape neuronal dendrites in development and repair, and 3) emergent behaviors of integrated neuronal systems.

Regarding the neurobiology of time, consider these observations. Why do birds sing in the morning, while frogs call at night? Why are heart attacks likely to strike before dawn, while asthmatic attacks generally occur after sunset? Why do we most often feel lethargic and depressed during the short, dark days of winter, while on long, sunny summer days, we feel energetic and alert? The answer to each of these questions lies in understanding the central role of the brain's clock in organizing our body functions around the major variable in the external world, the daily cycle of darkness and light. This circadian clock, located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the brain, whose cellular processes mark the passage of time in near 24-hr cycles, is a fundamental life component. Circadian clocks impose temporal order on cells, tissues and organs throughout the body, modulating body processes over the day-night cycle. Our broad research objective is to understand how biological timing systems control integrative brain functions. Our focus is on the role of the actin cytoskeleton in signaling and clock coupling via peptides.

This major research thrust has important applications: Malfunctioning of the brain's circadian clock results in disorders in brain and organ function, which manifest themselves as clinical disorders of sleep, movement and neural degeneration, such as in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The breadth of our systems-based analysis is generating insights into mechanisms that synchronize people to day and night, which is of proven importance to good health and disease-resistance. Outcomes will enhance understanding of substrates that generate long-term neural changes, with broad relevance for public health and disease prevention. They will enable strategies for ameliorating sleep, autonomic, degenerative, movement and cognitive disorders.

Regarding neuroengineering development, we are building upon campus excellence in molecular and cellular biology, nano-scale analytical chemistry and bioengineering. We study signals that shape the outgrowth of neuronal protrusions that wire the nervous system. Our goal is to discover novel insights, solutions and applications for neural repair and restoration of function through targeting critical molecules and processes that construct micro-networks during the normal wiring of the nervous system.

Regarding emergent behaviors of neuronal clusters, we are controlling microenvironments to understand and direct the sensing, integration and actuation properties of neurons and their interactions with other types of functional cell clusters.


Martha Gillette Dr. Gillette received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1976 and joined the faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 1978. She is a Professor in the Departments of Cell and Developmental Biology and Molecular and Integrative Physiology, the Colleges of Medicine and Liberal Arts and Sciences, and The Neuroscience Program at UIUC. Dr. Gillette served as Head of Cell and Developmental Biology from 1998 until 2008.

She has been an Affiliate with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology (Neurotech Group) since 1988, the Institute for Genomic Biology (Genomics of Neural & Behavioral Plasticity Theme) since its inception in 2003, the Department of Bioengineering, and the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory since 2009. Her many accomplishments were acknowledged by the University of Illinois with appointments as Alumni Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in 2004 and Center for Advanced Study Professor in 2009.


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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Martha U. Gillette (2013), "[Illinois] MCB 529 BRH Biological Rhythms in Health and Disease," http://nanohub.org/resources/20114.

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL


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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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