Salk Institute for Biological Studies


Satchidananda  Panda

Satchidananda Panda

Associate Professor
Regulatory Biology Laboratory



Satchin Panda, an associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory, is interested in understanding the molecular mechanism of the biological clock in a mouse model system. The biological clock or circadian oscillator in most organisms coordinates behavior and physiology with the natural light-dark cycle. His laboratory uses genetic, genomics and biochemical approaches to identify genes under circadian regulation in different organs and to understand the mechanism of such regulation. His lab also tries to characterize the mechanism by which the circadian oscillator is synchronized to the natural light-dark condition. Both classical rod/cone photoreceptors and a newly identified ocular photopigment melanopsin participate in photoentrainment of the clock. Research in his lab is geared towards identifying molecular components and events critical for transmitting light information from the eye to the master oscillator in the brain.

"Just as the biological clock in the brain wakes us in the morning and puts us to sleep at night, clocks in every other organ tune physiology and metabolism to appropriate times of the day. When these timing mechanisms don't work well, it can lead to sleep problems, depression, metabolic diseases, cancer and accelerated aging."

Panda's team explores how our biological clocks control our metabolism and physiology, as a means for coming up with new strategies to treat or prevent chronic diseases. His lab discovered that a light receptor, called melanopsin, senses blue light in our environment and tells our brain when to sleep and when to stay alert. The discovery has inspired architects and designers to redesign lighting at workplaces, homes and hospitals to improve the quality of life. His team is also actively pursuing a novel idea for finding drugs that can mimic light or dark so that diseases like depression and sleep disorders can be effectively treated.

Panda's work on clocks outside the brain revealed that eating times synchronize clocks in other organs, including the liver, muscles and fat tissues. These clocks, in turn, orchestrate when and for how long our body breaks down sugar, fat and cholesterol.

His team may have found another option for preventing obesity by preserving natural feeding rhythms without altering dietary intake. They discovered that mice who ate fatty food frequently throughout the day gained weight and developed high cholesterol, high blood glucose, liver damage and diminished motor control, while the mice restricted to eating for only eight hours per day weighed 28 percent less and showed no adverse health effects, despite consuming the same amount of calories from the same fatty food. When given an exercise test, the time-restricted mice also outperformed the ad lib eaters and control animals fed a normal diet. The findings suggest that the control of energy metabolism is a finely tuned process that involves an intricate network of signaling and genetic pathways, including nutrient-sensing mechanisms and the circadian system. Timerestricted feeding acts on these interwoven networks and moves their state toward that of a normal feeding rhythm.

Although the findings have not yet been duplicated in humans, most successful human lifestyle interventions were first tested in mice, so Panda and his team are hopeful their findings will follow suit, providing a simple and effective lifestyle intervention to contain the obesity epidemic.

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