The history of circadian rhythm research in Austria


In view of the recent revival of interest in circadian biology and circadian epidemiology at the Medical University of Vienna, it seems appropriate to highlight the rich and pioneering history of circadian research in Austria. Among the forefathers of circadian research in Vienna are Otto Marburg (1874–1948), who discovered important elements of the pineal gland physiology, Robert Hofstätter (1883–1970), who used pineal gland extract in obstetrics/gynecology, and Paul Engel (1907–1997), who discovered that the pineal gland was controlled by light.

More recently, Vera Lapin (1920–2007) showed that surgical removal of the pineal gland increased tumor growth, while Franz Waldhauser (*1946) investigated melatonin in conjunction with night work. Michael Kundi (*1950) and his team conducted among the first studies demonstrating differences in rhythms of night workers and early evidence for health impairments among them. Furthermore, Vienna-born Erhard Haus (1926–2013) pioneered the discovery of the role and importance of melatonin in relation to numerous diseases.

This rich pioneering contribution of scientists in Vienna or with roots in Vienna is continued today by a new generation of chronobiologists, epidemiologists and clinicians in Vienna whose new insights contribute to the rapidly developing field of circadian rhythms research. Current topics and contributions relate to the impact of circadian rhythm disruption on health, and the application of chronotherapeutic approaches in clinical and preventive settings.

E.S. Schernhammer, G. Klösch, I. Ellinger, D. Winkler, E. Winkler-Pjrek, G. Jordakieva, K. Papantoniou, S. Strohmaier, B. Lell, F. Waldhauser, The history of circadian rhythm research in Austria, Wiener klinische Wochenschrift (2023).