Fred C. Davis

Fred C. DavisProfessor
Circadian Rhythms; Developmental Biology; Behavioral Neurobiology

Department of Biology
Northeastern University
443 Richards Hall
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115 USA

Academic Education

  • Ph.D. Zoology, University of Texas, Austin
  • M.Sc. Biological Sciences, Stanford University
  • B.Sc. Biological Sciences, Stanford University


  • Interim Chair, Department of Biology, Northeastern University (2006-2009)
  • Professor, Department of Biology, Northeastern University (2003-Present)
  • Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Northeastern University (1993-2003)
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Northeastern University (1988-1993)
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, University of Virginia (1983-1987)
  • National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellow, Brain Research Institute and Department of Anatomy, UCLA School of Medicine (1980-1983)

Other Professional Activities

  • Director, Behavioral Neuroscience Major, Northeastern University (1999-2001, 2009-2011)
  • Treasurer, Society for Research on Biological Rhythms (2002-2004)
  • Regular Member, NIH Center for Scientific Review, Biological Rhythms and Sleep Study Section (2000-2004)
  • Executive Committee, Society for Research on Biological Rhythms (1998-2000)
  • Graduate Coordinator, Department of Biology, Northeastern University (1995-1999)
  • Advisory Board Journal of Biological Rhythms (1994-1995)

Research Interests

My research is aimed at understanding the mechanisms and functions of circadian rhythms. Life evolved on a rotating planet under the influence of regular cycles in light and temperature and eventually in the activity of life itself. This has had a profound impact on organisms from bacteria to humans. Twenty-four-hour (circadian) cycles in biochemistry, physiology, and behavior are universal and innate features of living systems affecting functions from the timing of sleep and wakefulness to the daily activation of metabolic enzymes. Circadian rhythms are entrained by light/dark cycles to insure that rhythmic activities occur at appropriate times of day. Artificial light and other aspects of modern life disrupt the normal entrainment of circadian rhythms. The disruption of circadian rhythms has been linked to sleep/wake disruptions, mood disorders, cancer, metabolic syndromes, and reduced immune function.

Although circadian rhythms are an intrinsic property of most cells and are expressed in tissues throughout the body, they are normally coordinated by a “master clock” in the brain, the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) that communicates both within the brain and to other organs by as yet unidentified signals. We work with mice and hamsters to understand how the coordination among different circadian rhythms is regulated with emphasis on signals between the SCN and other brain areas and on the emergence circadian rhythms throughout the body during development. Our work involves the analysis of rhythms in whole animal behavior as well as in gene expression in individual tissues, in both adult and developing animals. Identifying the signals that mediate circadian regulation is critical to understanding how the integrity of the system is normally regulated and how it can become disrupted by environmental conditions or in disease.

Bioluminescence recording of fetal mouse SCN (average of n=4) and liver (average of n=3) from a single pregnant female mouse. The bioluminescence represents the expression of a circadian clock gene (per2) that turns on and off each day. Mutations of this gene in humans cause the circadian clock to run fast and disrupt the timing of sleep. In these mice, the light-producing enzyme, luciferase, has been engineered to be expressed at the same time as the PER2 protein. As a result, bioluminescence is produced whenever the per2 gene is expressed. All samples show near 24-hour (circadian) rhythmicity but the liver rhythm is approximately 9.7 hours out of phase with the SCN.

Teaching Activities

I have been involved in college teaching since 1973 when I was an undergraduate Teaching Assistant (TA) for the Human Biology Program at Stanford University. As a TA at the University of Texas, my PhD advisor and I “experimented” with different teaching methods. For example, instead of running a traditional review section for an introductory biology course, I taught a mini-course in parallel to the main lecture that was focused on the biology, from behavior to genetics, of a single organism, the honeybee. We also taught an experimental, hands-on circadian rhythms laboratory course for non-science majors that was a great success. I began teaching my own courses at the University of Virginia and continuing at Northeastern have taught a variety of subjects from Biological Clocks and Animal Behavior to Developmental Neurobiology and Human Anatomy and Physiology. Ideally, teaching gives new information, new understanding of processes and relationships, and new skills for critical thinking and problem solving. For these to happen the student, through interest and/or relevance, should also care for those outcomes. Since those early “experiments,” providing the motivation as well as the material and methods to learn has been an organizing principal of my teaching.