Time to learn: The role of the molecular circadian clock in learning and memory

Chad W. Smies, Kasuni K. Bodinayake, Janine L. Kwapis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The circadian system plays an important role in aligning biological processes with the external time of day. A range of physiological functions are governed by the circadian cycle, including memory processes, yet little is understood about how the clock interfaces with memory at a molecular level. The molecular circadian clock consists of four key genes/gene families, Period, Clock, Cryptochrome, and Bmal1, that rhythmically cycle in an ongoing transcription-translation negative feedback loop that maintains an approximately 24-hour cycle within cells of the brain and body. In addition to their roles in generating the circadian rhythm within the brain's master pacemaker (the suprachiasmatic nucleus), recent research has suggested that these clock genes may function locally within memory-relevant brain regions to modulate memory across the day/night cycle. This review will discuss how these clock genes function both within the brain's central clock and within memory-relevant brain regions to exert circadian control over memory processes. For each core clock gene, we describe the current research that demonstrates a potential role in memory and outline how these clock genes might interface with cascades known to support long-term memory formation. Together, the research suggests that clock genes function locally within satellite clocks across the brain to exert circadian control over long-term memory formation and possibly other biological processes. Understanding how clock genes might interface with local molecular cascades in the hippocampus and other brain regions is a critical step toward developing treatments for the myriad disorders marked by dysfunction of both the circadian system and cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107651
JournalNeurobiology of Learning and Memory
StatePublished - Sep 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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