Alan Rosenwasser

Professor of Psychology


Research Interests

Research in my laboratory focuses on the chronobiology of alcohol intake in animal models.

What is chronobiology?

Chronobiology is the scientific study of biological rhythms.  The most well-studied biological rhythms are the “circadian” rhythms, endogenous cycles with near-24-hour periods that influence processes ranging from gene expression to mood and cognition.  In complex animals such as vertebrates, circadian rhythms are controlled by a multi-oscillatory circadian timing system that includes a circadian “pacemaker” localized in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus, as well as a large number of “secondary” circadian oscillators, located throughout the brain and body. This distributed circadian timing system is normally synchronized (“entrained”) by periodic factors in the environment, including daily cycles of light and darkness, temperature, and food availability. Recent research has indicated that disruption of normal circadian timing contributes to sleep disorders, depression, jet-lag and shift-work related health problems, and cancer. Thus, the study of circadian rhythms is critical to understanding normal psychobiological function, to the improvement of public health, and to the development of better treatments for various medical conditions.

How is chronobiology related to alcohol intake?

Human clinical studies suggest that excessive alcohol intake disrupts normal circadian patterns of sleep-wake behavior and other physiological functions.  In turn, chronobiological disruption appears to promote and sustain excessive alcohol intake.  In order to better understand the mechanisms underlying these relationships, my laboratory has been exploring interactions between circadian rhythms and alcohol intake in experimental animals including rats, mice, and hamsters.  In these studies, we are examining the effects of alcohol exposure on circadian rhythms, as well as the reciprocal effects of circadian rhythm disruption on voluntary alcohol intake. In addition, we are examining the genetic modulation of these relationships using rats and mice with genetic predispositions to consume (or avoid) alcohol. To date, we have found that chronic alcohol intake alters fundamental properties of the circadian pacemaker, and that circadian disruption induced by exposure to a simulated “jet-lag” lighting regimen modifies alcohol intake. We hope that this work will eventually lead to the development of improved circadian-based strategies for the management or even prevention of alcohol related disorders. Our work has been supported by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), by the Integrative Neuroscience Initiative on Alcoholism (INIA), and by the Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health (MIHGH).


In addition to my position in the Department of Psychology, I am also a cooperating faculty member in the School of Biology and Ecology, the Graduate School of Biomedical Science & Engineering (GSBSE), and the University of New England’s Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences.

Selected Publications

Rosenwasser, A.M. Chronobiology of alcohol: animal models. Alcohol, 49, 311-319, 2015.

Rosenwasser, A.M., Fixaris, M.C. and McCulley III, W.D. Photoperiodic modulation of voluntary ethanol intake in C57BL/6 mice.  Physiology and Behavior, 147, 342-347, 2015.

Rosenwasser, A.M., McCulley III, W.D. and Fecteau, M. Circadian activity rhythms and voluntary ethanol intake in male and female ethanol-preferring rats: effects of long-term ethanol access. Alcohol, 48, 647-655, 2014.

Walls, S.A., Rosenwasser, A.M. and Devaud, L.L. Sex and regional differences in the effects of chronic intermittent ethanol exposure on subsequent excitotoxic challenge in organotypic hippocampal slice cultures. Neuroscience Letters, 550, 6-11, 2013.

Rosenwasser, A.M. and Fixaris, M.C. Chronobiology of alcohol: studies in C57BL/6J and DBA/2J inbred mice. Physiology and Behavior, 110/111, 140-147, 2013.

McCulley III, W.D., Ascheid, S., Crabbe, J.C. and Rosenwasser, A.M. Selective breeding for ethanol-related traits alters circadian phenotype. Alcohol, 47, 187-194, 2013.