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1.  System-Driven and Oscillator-Dependent Circadian Transcription in Mice with a Conditionally Active Liver Clock  
PLoS Biology  2007;5(2):e34.
The mammalian circadian timing system consists of a master pacemaker in neurons of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and clocks of a similar molecular makeup in most peripheral body cells. Peripheral oscillators are self-sustained and cell autonomous, but they have to be synchronized by the SCN to ensure phase coherence within the organism. In principle, the rhythmic expression of genes in peripheral organs could thus be driven not only by local oscillators, but also by circadian systemic signals. To discriminate between these mechanisms, we engineered a mouse strain with a conditionally active liver clock, in which REV-ERBα represses the transcription of the essential core clock gene Bmal1 in a doxycycline-dependent manner. We examined circadian liver gene expression genome-wide in mice in which hepatocyte oscillators were either running or arrested, and found that the rhythmic transcription of most genes depended on functional hepatocyte clocks. However, we discovered 31 genes, including the core clock gene mPer2, whose expression oscillated robustly irrespective of whether the liver clock was running or not. By contrast, in liver explants cultured in vitro, circadian cycles of mPer2::luciferase bioluminescence could only be observed when hepatocyte oscillators were operational. Hence, the circadian cycles observed in the liver of intact animals without functional hepatocyte oscillators were likely generated by systemic signals. The finding that rhythmic mPer2 expression can be driven by both systemic cues and local oscillators suggests a plausible mechanism for the phase entrainment of subsidiary clocks in peripheral organs.
Author Summary
In contrast to previously held belief, molecular circadian oscillators are not restricted to specialized pacemaker tissues, such as the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), but exist in virtually all body cells. Although the circadian clocks operative in peripheral cell types are as robust as those residing in SCN neurons, they quickly become desynchronized in vitro due to variations in period length. Hence, in intact animals, the phase coherence between peripheral oscillators must be established by daily signals generated by the SCN master clock. Although the hierarchy between master and slave oscillators is now well established, the respective roles of these clocks in governing the circadian transcription program in a given organ have never been examined. In principle, the circadian expression of genes in a peripheral tissue could be driven either by cyclic systemic cues, by peripheral oscillators, or by both. In order to discriminate between genes regulated by local oscillators and systemic cues in liver, we generated mice in which hepatocyte clocks can be turned on and off at will. These studies suggest that 90% of the circadian transcription program in the liver is abolished or strongly attenuated when hepatocyte clocks are turned off, indicating that the expression of most circadian liver genes is orchestrated by local cellular clocks. The remaining 10% of cyclically expressed liver genes continue to be transcribed in a robustly circadian fashion in the absence of functional hepatocyte oscillators. These genes, which unexpectedly include the bona fide clock gene mPer2, must therefore be regulated by oscillating systemic signals, such as hormones, metabolites, or body temperature. Although temperature rhythms display only modest amplitudes, they appear to play a significant role in the phase entrainment of mPer2 transcription.
Research on mice engineered with an inducible liver clock enabled identification of some genes with expression controlled by the local clock, and other genes (includingmPer2) that maintained circadian oscillations thanks to cues from the SCN.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050034
PMCID: PMC1783671  PMID: 17298173
2.  Molecular Clocks in Pharmacology 
Circadian rhythms regulate a vast array of biological processes and play a fundamental role in mammalian physiology. As a result, considerable diurnal variation in the pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and side effect profiles of many therapeutics has been described. This variation has subsequently been tied to diurnal rhythms in absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion, as well as in pharmacodynamic variables, such as target expression. More recently, the molecular basis of circadian rhythmicity has been elucidated with the identification of clock genes, which oscillate in a circadian manner in most cells and tissues and regulate transcription of large sets of genes. Ongoing research efforts are beginning to reveal the critical role of circadian clock genes in the regulation of pharmacologic parameters, as well as the reciprocal impact of drugs on circadian clock function. This chapter will review the role of circadian clocks in the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of drug response, and provide several examples of the complex regulation of pharmacologic systems by components of the molecular circadian clock.
doi:10.1007/978-3-642-25950-0_10
PMCID: PMC3684693  PMID: 23604482
circadian clock; pharmacology; pharmacokinetics; pharmacodynamics; CLOCK; Bmal1
3.  Integration of Light and Temperature in the Regulation of Circadian Gene Expression in Drosophila 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(4):e54.
Circadian clocks are aligned to the environment via synchronizing signals, or Zeitgebers, such as daily light and temperature cycles, food availability, and social behavior. In this study, we found that genome-wide expression profiles from temperature-entrained flies show a dramatic difference in the presence or absence of a thermocycle. Whereas transcript levels appear to be modified broadly by changes in temperature, there is a specific set of temperature-entrained circadian mRNA profiles that continue to oscillate in constant conditions. There are marked differences in the biological functions represented by temperature-driven or circadian regulation. The set of temperature-entrained circadian transcripts overlaps significantly with a previously defined set of transcripts oscillating in response to a photocycle. In follow-up studies, all thermocycle-entrained circadian transcript rhythms also responded to light/dark entrainment, whereas some photocycle-entrained rhythms did not respond to temperature entrainment. Transcripts encoding the clock components Period, Timeless, Clock, Vrille, PAR-domain protein 1, and Cryptochrome were all confirmed to be rhythmic after entrainment to a daily thermocycle, although the presence of a thermocycle resulted in an unexpected phase difference between period and timeless expression rhythms at the transcript but not the protein level. Generally, transcripts that exhibit circadian rhythms both in response to thermocycles and photocycles maintained the same mutual phase relationships after entrainment by temperature or light. Comparison of the collective temperature- and light-entrained circadian phases of these transcripts indicates that natural environmental light and temperature cycles cooperatively entrain the circadian clock. This interpretation is further supported by comparative analysis of the circadian phases observed for temperature-entrained and light-entrained circadian locomotor behavior. Taken together, these findings suggest that information from both light and temperature is integrated by the transcriptional clock mechanism in the adult fly head.
Author Summary
A key adaptation to life on Earth is provided by internal daily time-keeping mechanisms that allow anticipation of the alternations between night and day. To act as reliable time-keeping mechanisms, circadian clocks have to be able to synchronize to environmental time cues, maintain ∼24-h rhythms under constant conditions, run at approximately the same pace over a range of environmental temperatures, and efficiently communicate time-of-day information to other biological systems. Clock-controlled oscillations in gene expression play an essential role in producing overt circadian rhythms. For most organisms, light/dark cycles appear to constitute the most powerful entrainment cue, but daily temperature cycles have also been demonstrated to efficiently synchronize circadian rhythms. This study uses the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model to compare the clock-dependent and clock-independent daily gene expression rhythms produced in response to light/dark cycles versus temperature cycles. A broad temperature-driven expression program was found in the heads of both wild-type and arrhythmic mutant flies, but wild-type flies also exhibited a more specific temperature-entrained circadian expression response that resembled the circadian response following light entrainment. The phase relationship between the temperature- and light-entrained circadian rhythms suggests that in nature light and temperature act cooperatively to synchronize the circadian clock.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030054
PMCID: PMC1847695  PMID: 17411344
4.  Coupling governs entrainment range of circadian clocks 
Circadian clock oscillator properties that are crucial for synchronization with the environment (entrainment) are studied in experiment and theory.The ratio between stimulus (zeitgeber) strength and oscillator amplitude, and the rigidity of the oscillatory system (relaxation rate upon perturbation) determine entrainment properties. Coupling among oscillators affects both qualities resulting in increased amplitude and rigidity.Uncoupled lung clocks entrain to extreme zeitgeber cycles, whereas the coupled oscillator system in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) does not; however, when coupling in the SCN is inhibited, larger ranges of entrainment can be achieved.
Daily rhythms in physiology, metabolism and behavior are controlled by an endogenous circadian timing system, which has evolved to synchronize an organism to periodically recurring environmental conditions, such as light–dark or temperature cycles. In mammals, the circadian system relies on cell-autonomous oscillators residing in almost every cell of the body. Cells of the SCN in the anterior hypothalamus are able to generate precise, long-lasting self-sustained circadian oscillations, which drive most rhythmic behavioral and physiological outputs, and which are believed to originate from the fact that the SCN tissue consists of tightly coupled cells (Aton and Herzog, 2005). In contrast, peripheral oscillators, such as lung tissue, exhibit seemingly damped and usually less precise oscillations, which are thought to be brought about by the lack of intercellular coupling.
Precise synchronization of these rhythms within the organism, but also with the environment (so-called entrainment), is an essential part of circadian organization. Entrainment is one of the cornerstones of circadian biology (Roenneberg et al, 2003). In evolution, the phase of a rhythmic variable is selective rather than its endogenous period. Thus, the synchronization of endogenous rhythms to zeitgeber cycles of the environment (resulting in a specific phase of entrainment) is fundamental for the adaptive value of circadian clocks. In this study, we systematically investigated the properties of circadian oscillators that are essential for entrainment behavior and describe coupling as a primary determinant.
As an experimental starting point of this study, we found that the circadian oscillators of lung tissue have a larger range of entrainment than SCN tissue—they readily entrained to extreme experimental temperature cycle of 20 or 28 h, whereas SCN tissue did not (Figure 4). For this purpose, we cultured SCN and lung slices derived from mice that express luciferase as fusion protein together with the clock protein PERIOD2 (Yoo et al, 2004). The detection of luciferase-driven bioluminescence allowed us to follow molecular clock gene activity in real-time over the course of several days.
In theoretical analyses, we show that both the ratio of amplitude and zeitgeber strength and, importantly, inter-oscillator coupling are major determinants for entrainment. The reason for coupling being critical is twofold: (i) Coupling makes an oscillatory system more rigid, i.e., it relaxes faster in response to a perturbation, and (ii) coupling increases the amplitude of the oscillatory system. Both of these consequences of coupling lead to a smaller entrainment range, because zeitgeber stimuli affect the oscillatory system less if the relaxation is fast and the amplitude is high (Figure 1). From these theoretical considerations, we conclude that the lung clock probably constitutes a weak oscillatory system, likely because a lack in coupling leads to a slow amplitude relaxation. (Circadian amplitude is not particularly low in lung (Figure 4).) In contrast, the SCN constitutes a rigid oscillator, whereby coupling and its described consequences probably are the primary causes for this rigidity. We then tested these theoretical predictions by experimentally perturbing coupling in the SCN (with MDL and TTX; O'Neill et al, 2008; Yamaguchi et al, 2003) and find that, indeed, reducing the coupling weakens the circadian oscillatory system in the SCN, which results in an enlargement of the entrainment range (Figure 6).
Why is the SCN designed to be a stronger circadian oscillator than peripheral organs? We speculate that the position of the SCN—as the tissue that conveys environmental timing information (i.e., light) to the rest of the body—makes it necessary to create a circadian clock that is robust against noisy environmental stimuli. The SCN oscillator needs to be robust enough to be protected from environmental noise, but flexible enough to fulfill its function as an entrainable clock even in extreme photoperiods (i.e., seasons). By the same token, peripheral clocks are more protected from the environmental zeitgebers due to intrinsic homeostatic mechanisms. Thus, they do not necessarily need to develop a strong oscillatory system (e.g., by strengthening the coupling), rather they need to stay flexible enough to respond to direct or indirect signals from the SCN, such as hormonal, neural, temperature or metabolic signals. Such a design ensures that only robust and persistent environmental signals trigger an SCN resetting response, while SCN signals can relatively easily be conveyed to the rest of the body. Thus, the robustness in the SCN clock likely serves as a filter for environmental noise.
In summary, using a combination of simulation studies, analytical calculations and experiments, we uncovered critical features for entrainment, such as zeitgeber-to-amplitude ratio and amplitude relaxation rate. Coupling is a primary factor that governs these features explaining important differences in the design of SCN and peripheral oscillators that ensure a robust, but also flexible circadian system.
Circadian clocks are endogenous oscillators driving daily rhythms in physiology and behavior. Synchronization of these timers to environmental light–dark cycles (‘entrainment') is crucial for an organism's fitness. Little is known about which oscillator qualities determine entrainment, i.e., entrainment range, phase and amplitude. In a systematic theoretical and experimental study, we uncovered these qualities for circadian oscillators in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN—the master clock in mammals) and the lung (a peripheral clock): (i) the ratio between stimulus (zeitgeber) strength and oscillator amplitude and (ii) the rigidity of the oscillatory system (relaxation rate upon perturbation) determine entrainment properties. Coupling among oscillators affects both qualities resulting in increased amplitude and rigidity. These principles explain our experimental findings that lung clocks entrain to extreme zeitgeber cycles, whereas SCN clocks do not. We confirmed our theoretical predictions by showing that pharmacological inhibition of coupling in the SCN leads to larger ranges of entrainment. These differences between master and the peripheral clocks suggest that coupling-induced rigidity in the SCN filters environmental noise to create a robust circadian system.
doi:10.1038/msb.2010.92
PMCID: PMC3010105  PMID: 21119632
circadian clock; coupling; entrainment; mathematical modeling; oscillator
5.  Data assimilation constrains new connections and components in a complex, eukaryotic circadian clock model 
Integrating molecular time-series data resulted in a more robust model of the plant clock, which predicts that a wave of inhibitory PRR proteins controls the morning genes LHY and CCA1.PRR5 is experimentally validated as a late-acting component of this wave.The family of sequentially expressed PRR proteins allows flexible entrainment of the clock, whereas a single protein could not, suggesting that the duplication of clock genes might confer this generic, functional advantage.The observed post-translational regulation of the evening protein TOC1 by interaction with ZTL and GI remains consistent with an indirect activation of TOC1 mRNA expression by GI, which was previously postulated from modelling.
Circadian rhythms are present in most eukaryotic organisms including plants. The core genes of the circadian clock are very important for plant physiology as they drive the rhythmic expression of around 30% of Arabidopsis genes (Edwards et al, 2006; Michael et al, 2008). The clock is normally entrained by daily environmental changes in light and temperature. Oscillations also persist under constant environmental conditions in a laboratory. The clock gene circuit in Arabidopsis is based on multiple interlocked feedback loops, which are typical of circadian genetic networks in other organisms (Dunlap and Loros, 2004; Bell-Pedersen et al, 2005). Mechanistic, mathematical models are increasingly useful in analysing and understanding how the observed molecular components give rise to the rhythmic behaviour of this dynamic, non-linear system.
Our previous model of Arabidopsis circadian clock (Locke et al, 2006) presented the core, three-loop structure of the clock, which comprised morning and evening oscillators and coupling between them (Figure 1). The morning loop included the dawn-expressed LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY) and CIRCADIAN CLOCK ASSOCIATED 1 (CCA1) genes, which negatively regulate their expression through activation of the inhibitor proteins, PSEUDO-RESPONSE REGULATOR 9 (PRR9) and PRR7. These were described by a single, combined model component, PRR9/7. The evening loop included the dusk-expressed gene TIMING OF CAB EXPRESSION 1 (TOC1), which negatively regulates itself through inhibition of a hypothetical activator, gene Y. The evening-expressed gene GIGANTEA (GI) contributes to Y function. The morning and evening loops were connected through inhibition of the evening genes by LHY/CCA1 and activation of LHY/CCA1 expression by a hypothetical evening gene X. Here, we extend the previous model of circadian gene expression (Locke et al, 2006) based on recently published data (Figure 1). The new model retains the good match of our previous model to the large volume of molecular time-series data, and improves the behaviour of the model clock system under a range of light conditions and in a wider range of mutants.
The morning loop was extended by adding a hypothetical clock component, the night inhibitor (NI), which acts together with PRR9 and PRR7 to keep the expression of LHY and CCA1 at low levels over a broad interval spanning dusk. This regulation is important to set the phase of LHY/CCA1 expression at dawn. Data from the literature suggested that the PRR5 gene was a candidate for NI, leading us to predict that the sequentially expressed PRR9, PRR7 and PRR5 proteins together formed a wave of inhibitors of LHY and CCA1. This hypothesis was tested under discriminating light conditions, in which the light interval is replaced with the dawn and dusk pulses of light to form a ‘skeleton photoperiod'. Combining this protocol with mutation of the PRR7 and/or PRR5 genes, our new experimental results validated the model predictions and confirmed that PRR5 contributes to the function that we modelled as NI. During revision of this paper, that result received further experimental support (Nakamichi et al, 2010).
Model simulations revealed the functional importance of the inhibitor wave in entraining the clock to the light/dark cycle. Separating PRR9 from the other inhibitors in the model showed how the strong light activation observed for this gene contributes to more rapid entrainment. The observed, post-translation regulation of all three inhibitor proteins by light (Farre and Kay, 2007; Ito et al, 2007; Kiba et al, 2007) was also included in the model. Light-regulated degradation provides a molecular mechanism to explain the later phase of LHY and CCA1 expression under long photoperiods compared with short photoperiods, in line with experimental observations.
The connection between evening and morning loops was revised by including the inhibition of the morning gene PRR9 by the evening component TOC1, based on the data on TOC1-overexpressing plants (Makino et al, 2002; Ito et al, 2005). This inhibition causes a delay of PRR9 expression relative to LHY/CCA1, which allows LHY/CCA1 to reach a higher expression level at dawn. Our simulations showed that a partial mutant that lacks this inhibition of PRR9 by TOC1 is sufficient to cause the higher level of PRR9 and the short circadian period observed in toc1 mutant plants.
The evening loop was extended by introducing the observed, post-translational regulation of the TOC1 protein by the F-box protein ZEITLUPE (ZTL) and stabilization of ZTL by its interaction with GI in the presence of light (Kim et al, 2007). GI's function in the clock model has thus been revised according to the data: GI promotes an inhibition of TOC1 protein function through positive regulation of ZTL. This results, together with negative regulation of Y by TOC1, in indirect activation of TOC1 mRNA expression by GI, which agrees with our earlier experimental data (Locke et al, 2006). Simulations showed that the post-translational regulation of TOC1 by ZTL and GI results in the observed long period of the ztl mutant and fast dampening of rhythms in the lhy/cca1/gi triple mutant.
This is the first mathematical model that incorporates the observed post-translational regulation into the genetic network of the Arabidopsis clock. In addition to specific, mechanistic insights, the model shows a generic advantage from the duplication of clock genes and their expression at different phases. Such clock gene duplications are observed in eukaryotes with larger genomes, such as the mouse. Analogous, functional duplication can be achieved by differential regulation of a single clock gene in distinct cells, as in Drosophila.
Circadian clocks generate 24-h rhythms that are entrained by the day/night cycle. Clock circuits include several light inputs and interlocked feedback loops, with complex dynamics. Multiple biological components can contribute to each part of the circuit in higher organisms. Mechanistic models with morning, evening and central feedback loops have provided a heuristic framework for the clock in plants, but were based on transcriptional control. Here, we model observed, post-transcriptional and post-translational regulation and constrain many parameter values based on experimental data. The model's feedback circuit is revised and now includes PSEUDO-RESPONSE REGULATOR 7 (PRR7) and ZEITLUPE. The revised model matches data in varying environments and mutants, and gains robustness to parameter variation. Our results suggest that the activation of important morning-expressed genes follows their release from a night inhibitor (NI). Experiments inspired by the new model support the predicted NI function and show that the PRR5 gene contributes to the NI. The multiple PRR genes of Arabidopsis uncouple events in the late night from light-driven responses in the day, increasing the flexibility of rhythmic regulation.
doi:10.1038/msb.2010.69
PMCID: PMC2964123  PMID: 20865009
Arabidopsis thaliana; biological clocks; circadian rhythms; mathematical model; systems biology
6.  In-Vivo Quantitative Proteomics Reveals a Key Contribution of Post-Transcriptional Mechanisms to the Circadian Regulation of Liver Metabolism 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(1):e1004047.
Circadian clocks are endogenous oscillators that drive the rhythmic expression of a broad array of genes, orchestrating metabolism and physiology. Recent evidence indicates that post-transcriptional and post-translational mechanisms play essential roles in modulating temporal gene expression for proper circadian function, particularly for the molecular mechanism of the clock. Due to technical limitations in large-scale, quantitative protein measurements, it remains unresolved to what extent the circadian clock regulates metabolism by driving rhythms of protein abundance. Therefore, we aimed to identify global circadian oscillations of the proteome in the mouse liver by applying in vivo SILAC mouse technology in combination with state of the art mass spectrometry. Among the 3000 proteins accurately quantified across two consecutive cycles, 6% showed circadian oscillations with a defined phase of expression. Interestingly, daily rhythms of one fifth of the liver proteins were not accompanied by changes at the transcript level. The oscillations of almost half of the cycling proteome were delayed by more than six hours with respect to the corresponding, rhythmic mRNA. Strikingly we observed that the length of the time lag between mRNA and protein cycles varies across the day. Our analysis revealed a high temporal coordination in the abundance of proteins involved in the same metabolic process, such as xenobiotic detoxification. Apart from liver specific metabolic pathways, we identified many other essential cellular processes in which protein levels are under circadian control, for instance vesicle trafficking and protein folding. Our large-scale proteomic analysis reveals thus that circadian post-transcriptional and post-translational mechanisms play a key role in the temporal orchestration of liver metabolism and physiology.
Author Summary
The circadian clock is an evolutionary system that allows organisms to anticipate and thus adapt to daily changes in the environment. In mammals, the circadian clock is found in virtually every tissue regulating rhythms of metabolism and physiology. While a lot of studies have focused in how circadian clocks regulate gene expression little is known about daily control of protein abundance. Here we applied state of the art mass spectrometry in combination with quantitative proteomics to investigate global circadian oscillations of the proteome in the mouse liver. We found that approximately 6% of the liver proteins are cycling daily and interestingly the majority of these oscillations diverge from the behavior of their transcripts. Our data indicates that post-transcriptional mechanisms play an essential role in shaping the phase of rhythmic proteins downstream of transcription regulation to ultimately drive rhythms of metabolism. Moreover, the contribution of post-transcriptional regulation seems to differ among distinct metabolic pathways. Overall we not only found circadian oscillations in the abundance of proteins involved in liver specific metabolic pathways but also in essential cellular processes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004047
PMCID: PMC3879213  PMID: 24391516
7.  Quantitative Analyses of Circadian Gene Expression in Mammalian Cell Cultures 
PLoS Computational Biology  2006;2(10):e136.
The central circadian pacemaker is located in the hypothalamus of mammals, but essentially the same oscillating system operates in peripheral tissues and even in immortalized cell lines. Using luciferase reporters that allow automated monitoring of circadian gene expression in mammalian fibroblasts, we report the collection and analysis of precise rhythmic data from these cells. We use these methods to analyze signaling pathways of peripheral tissues by studying the responses of Rat-1 fibroblasts to ten different compounds. To quantify these rhythms, which show significant variation and large non-stationarities (damping and baseline drifting), we developed a new fast Fourier transform–nonlinear least squares analysis procedure that specifically optimizes the quantification of amplitude for circadian rhythm data. This enhanced analysis method successfully distinguishes among the ten signaling compounds for their rhythm-inducing properties. We pursued detailed analyses of the responses to two of these compounds that induced the highest amplitude rhythms in fibroblasts, forskolin (an activator of adenylyl cyclase), and dexamethasone (an agonist of glucocorticoid receptors). Our quantitative analyses clearly indicate that the synchronization mechanisms by the cAMP and glucocorticoid pathways are different, implying that actions of different genes stimulated by these pathways lead to distinctive programs of circadian synchronization.
Synopsis
The circadian biological clock controls the adaptation of animals and plants to the daily environmental cycle of light and darkness. As such, this clock is responsible for jet lag and has consequences for mental health (e.g., depression), physical health (e.g., athletic performance and the timing of heart attacks), and social issues (e.g., shift work). The central circadian pacemaker is located in the hypothalamus of the mammalian brain, but essentially the same oscillating system operates in nonneural tissues. Using luciferase, an enzyme that emits light, the authors could monitor circadian gene expression in mammalian fibroblasts via luminescence emission that is controlled by the biological clock. Using this method, they report the collection and analysis of precise rhythmic data from these cells. These methods were used to analyze signaling pathways by studying the responses of fibroblasts to a variety of different treatments, including drugs, growth factors, and serum. The authors developed a new analysis procedure that specifically optimizes the quantification of amplitude for cyclic data to analyze these rhythms. This enhanced analysis method successfully distinguishes among the various signaling treatments for their rhythm inducing properties. The quantitative analyses clearly indicate that the synchronization mechanisms by the cyclic AMP and glucocorticoid pathways are different. Therefore, these pathways lead to distinctive programs of circadian synchronization.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020136
PMCID: PMC1599765  PMID: 17040123
8.  Nascent-Seq reveals novel features of mouse circadian transcriptional regulation 
eLife  2012;1:e00011.
A substantial fraction of the metazoan transcriptome undergoes circadian oscillations in many cells and tissues. Based on the transcription feedback loops important for circadian timekeeping, it is commonly assumed that this mRNA cycling reflects widespread transcriptional regulation. To address this issue, we directly measured the circadian dynamics of mouse liver transcription using Nascent-Seq (genome-wide sequencing of nascent RNA). Although many genes are rhythmically transcribed, many rhythmic mRNAs manifest poor transcriptional rhythms, indicating a prominent contribution of post-transcriptional regulation to circadian mRNA expression. This analysis of rhythmic transcription also showed that the rhythmic DNA binding profile of the transcription factors CLOCK and BMAL1 does not determine the transcriptional phase of most target genes. This likely reflects gene-specific collaborations of CLK:BMAL1 with other transcription factors. These insights from Nascent-Seq indicate that it should have broad applicability to many other gene expression regulatory issues.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00011.001
eLife digest
Many biological processes oscillate with a period of roughly 24 hr, and the ability of organisms as diverse as bacteria and humans to maintain such circadian rhythms, even under conditions of continuous darkness, influences a range of phenomena, including sleep, migration and reproduction. One characteristic of circadian rhythms is that they can adjust to local time (with humans suffering from jet lag as they wait for this to happen).
Experiments have shown that the circadian system in mammals relies on feedback loops that operate at the level of individual cells. These loops are controlled by two particular proteins, which comprise the transcription factor complex called BMAL1:CLK. Transcription factors cause particular sequences of bases in the DNA of cells to be transcribed into messenger RNA, thus starting the process by which target genes are expressed as proteins. In the case of BMAL1:CLK, these proteins are then modified, which inhibits any further transcription of the target genes. A reversal of these modifications is then followed by the synthesis of new proteins, which allows a new cycle of the transcription process to begin.
The amounts of many messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in a cell also increases and decreases with a period of 24 hr, and it was generally assumed that this was due to the changes in the level of transcription. More recently, however, it was suggested that other processes, such as splicing and translation, might also contribute to rhythmic changes in the amount of mRNA associated with particular genes. Such post-transcriptional processes are known to have a role in other areas of cell biology, including aspects of the circadian system, but until very recently this had not been studied in detail for all genes.
Now Menet et al. have directly assayed rhythmic transcription by measuring the amount of nascent mRNA being produced at a given time, six times a day, across all the genes in mouse liver cells using a high-throughput sequencing approach called Nascent-Seq. They compared this with the amount of liver mRNA expressed at six time points of the day. Although the authors found that many genes exhibit rhythmic mRNA expression in the mouse liver, about 70% of them did not show comparable transcriptional rhythms. Post-transcriptional regulation must, therefore, have a major role in the circadian system of mice and, presumably, other mammals.
Menet et al. also found that the influence of CLK:BMAL1 differed from what was expected, which suggests that it collaborates with a number of other transcription factors to effect transcription of most target genes. In addition to showing that circadian systems of mammals are more complex than previously believed, the results also illustrate the potential of Nascent-Seq as a genome-wide assay technique for exploring a range of questions related to gene expression and gene regulation.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00011.002
doi:10.7554/eLife.00011
PMCID: PMC3492862  PMID: 23150795
Circadian rhythms; transcription; nascent RNA; high-throughput sequencing; RNA processing; post-transcriptional regulation; Mouse
9.  Extension of a genetic network model by iterative experimentation and mathematical analysis 
Molecular Systems Biology  2005;1:2005.0013.
We extend the current model of the plant circadian clock, in order to accommodate new and published data. Throughout our model development we use a global parameter search to ensure that any limitations we find are due to the network architecture and not to our selection of the parameter values, which have not been determined experimentally. Our final model includes two, interlocked loops of gene regulation and is reminiscent of the circuit structures previously identified by experiments on insect and fungal clocks. It is the first Arabidopsis clock model to show such good correspondence to experimental data.Our interlocked feedback loop model predicts the regulation of two unknown components. Experiments motivated by these predictions identify the GIGANTEA gene as a strong candidate for one component, with an unexpected pattern of light regulation.*
This study involves an iterative approach of mathematical modelling and experiment to develop an accurate mathematical model of the circadian clock in the higher plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Our approach is central to systems biology and should lead to a greater, quantitative understanding of the circadian clock, as well as being more widely relevant to research into genetic networks.
The day–night cycle caused by the Earth's rotation affects most organisms, and has resulted in the evolution of the circadian clock. The circadian clock controls 24-h rhythms in processes from metabolism to behaviour; in higher eukaryotes, the circadian clock controls the rhythmic expression of 5–10% of genes. In plants, the clock controls leaf and petal movements, the opening and closing of stomatal pores, the discharge of floral fragrances and many metabolic activities, especially those associated with photosynthesis.
The relatively small number of components involved in the central circadian network makes it an ideal candidate for mathematical modelling of complex biological regulation. Genetic studies in a variety of model organisms have shown that the circadian rhythm is generated by a central network of between 6 and 12 genes. These genes form feedback loops generating a rhythm in mRNA production. One negative feedback loop in which a gene encodes a protein that, after several hours, turns off transcription is, in principle, capable of creating a circadian rhythm. However, real circadian clocks have proven to be more complicated than this, with interlocked feedback loops. Networks of this complexity are more easily understood through mathematical modelling.
The clock mechanism in the model plant, A. thaliana, was first proposed to comprise a feedback loop in which two partially redundant genes, LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY) and CIRCADIAN CLOCK ASSOCIATED 1 (CCA1), repress the expression of their activator, TIMING OF CAB EXPRESSION 1 (TOC1). We previously modelled this preliminary network and showed that it was not capable of recreating several important pieces of experimental data (Locke et al, 2005). Here, we extend the LHY/CCA1–TOC1 network in new mathematical models. To check the effects of each addition to the network, the outputs of the extended models are compared to published data and to new experiments.
As is the case for most biological networks, the parameter values in our model, such as the translation rate of TOC1 protein, are unknown. We employ here an optimisation method, which works well with noisy and varied data and allows a global search of parameter space. This should ensure that the limitations we find in our networks are due to the network structure, and not to our parameter choices.
Our final interlocked feedback loop model requires two hypothetical components, genes X and Y (Figure 4), but is the first Arabidopsis clock model to exhibit such a good correspondence with experimental data. The model simulates a residual short-period oscillation in the cca1;lhy mutant, as characterised by our experiments. No single-loop model is able to do this. Our model also matches experimental data under constant light (LL) conditions and correctly senses photoperiod. The model predicts an interlocked feedback loop structure similar to that seen in the circadian clock mechanisms of other organisms.
The interlocked feedback loop model predicts a distinctive pattern of Y mRNA accumulation in the wild type (WT) and in the cca1;lhy double mutant, with Y mRNA levels increasing transiently at dawn. We designed an experiment to identify Y based on this prediction. GIGANTEA (GI) mRNA levels fit very well to our predicted profile for Y (Figure 6), identifying GI as a strong candidate for Y.
The approach described here could act as a template for experimental biologists seeking to extend models of small genetic networks. Our results illustrate the usefulness of mathematical modelling in guiding experiments, even if the models are based on limited data. Our method provides a way of identifying suitable candidate networks and quantifying how these networks better describe a wide variety of experimental measurements. The characteristics of new putative genes are thereby obtained, facilitating the experimental search for new components. To facilitate future experimental design, we provide user-friendly software that is specifically designed for numerical simulation of circadian experiments using models for several species (Brown, 2004b).
*Footnote: Synopsis highlights were added on 5 July 2005.
Circadian clocks involve feedback loops that generate rhythmic expression of key genes. Molecular genetic studies in the higher plant Arabidopsis thaliana have revealed a complex clock network. The first part of the network to be identified, a transcriptional feedback loop comprising TIMING OF CAB EXPRESSION 1 (TOC1), LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY) and CIRCADIAN CLOCK ASSOCIATED 1 (CCA1), fails to account for significant experimental data. We develop an extended model that is based upon a wider range of data and accurately predicts additional experimental results. The model comprises interlocking feedback loops comparable to those identified experimentally in other circadian systems. We propose that each loop receives input signals from light, and that each loop includes a hypothetical component that had not been explicitly identified. Analysis of the model predicted the properties of these components, including an acute light induction at dawn that is rapidly repressed by LHY and CCA1. We found this unexpected regulation in RNA levels of the evening-expressed gene GIGANTEA (GI), supporting our proposed network and making GI a strong candidate for this component.
doi:10.1038/msb4100018
PMCID: PMC1681447  PMID: 16729048
biological rhythms; gene network; mathematical modelling; parameter estimation
10.  Quantitative analysis of regulatory flexibility under changing environmental conditions 
Day length changes with the seasons in temperate latitudes, affecting the many biological rhythms that entrain to the day/night cycle: we measure these effects on the expression of Arabidopsis clock genes, using RNA and reporter gene readouts, with a new method of phase analysis.Dusk sensitivity is proposed as a simple, natural and general mathematical measure to analyse and manipulate the changing phase of a clock output relative to the change in the day/night cycle.Dusk sensitivity shows how increasing the numbers of feedback loops in the Arabidopsis clock models allows more flexible regulation, consistent with a previously-proposed, general operating principle of biological networks.The Arabidopsis clock genes show flexibility of regulation that is characteristic of a three-loop clock model, validating aspects of the model and the operating principle, but some clock output genes show greater flexibility arising from direct light regulation.
The analysis of dynamic, non-linear regulation with the aid of mechanistic models is central to Systems Biology. This study compares the predictions of mechanistic, mathematical models of the circadian clock with molecular time-series data on rhythmic gene expression in the higher plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Analysis of the models helps us to understand (explain and predict) how the clock gene circuit balances regulation by external and endogenous factors to achieve particular behaviours. Such multi-factorial regulation is ubiquitous in, and characteristic of, living systems.
The Earth's rotation causes predictable changes in the environment, notably in the availability of sunlight for photosynthesis. Many biological processes are driven by the environmental input via sensory pathways, for example, from photoreceptors. Circadian clocks provide an alternative strategy. These endogenous, 24-h rhythms can drive biological processes that anticipate the regular environmental changes, rather than merely responding. Many rhythmic processes have both light and clock control. Indeed, the clock components themselves must balance internal timing with external inputs, because circadian clocks are reset daily through light regulation of one or more clock components. This process of entrainment is complicated by the change in day length. When the times of dawn and dusk move apart in summer, and closer together in winter, does the clock track dawn, track dusk or interpolate between them?
In plants, the clock controls leaf and petal movements, the opening and closing of stomatal pores, the discharge of floral fragrances, and many metabolic activities, especially those associated with photosynthesis. Centuries of physiological studies have shown that these rhythms can behave differently. Flowering in Ipomoea nil (Pharbitis nil, Japanese morning glory) is controlled by a rhythm that tracks the time of dusk, to give a classic example. We showed that two other rhythms associated with vegetative growth track dawn in this species (Figure 5A), so the clock system allows flexible regulation.
The relatively small number of components involved in the circadian clockwork makes it an ideal candidate for mathematical modelling. Molecular genetic studies in a variety of model eukaryotes have shown that the circadian rhythm is generated by a network of 6–20 genes. These genes form feedback loops generating a rhythm in mRNA production. A single negative feedback loop in which a gene encodes a protein that, after several hours, turns off transcription is capable of generating a circadian rhythm, in principle. A single light input can entrain the clock to ‘local time', synchronised with a light–dark cycle. However, real circadian clocks have proven to be more complicated than this, with multiple light inputs and interlocked feedback loops.
We have previously argued from mathematical analysis that multi-loop networks increase the flexibility of regulation (Rand et al, 2004) and have shown that appropriately deployed flexibility can confer functional robustness (Akman et al, 2010). Here we test whether that flexibility can be demonstrated in vivo, in the model plant, A. thaliana. The Arabidopsis clock mechanism comprises a feedback loop in which two partially redundant, myb transcription factors, LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY) and CIRCADIAN CLOCK ASSOCIATED 1 (CCA1), repress the expression of their activator, TIMING OF CAB EXPRESSION 1 (TOC1). We previously modelled this single-loop circuit and showed that it was not capable of recreating important data (Locke et al, 2005a). An extended, two-loop model was developed to match observed behaviours, incorporating a hypothetical gene Y, for which the best identified candidate was the GIGANTEA gene (GI) (Locke et al, 2005b). Two further models incorporated the TOC1 homologues PSEUDO-RESPONSE REGULATOR (PRR) 9 and PRR7 (Locke et al, 2006; Zeilinger et al, 2006). In these circuits, a morning oscillator (LHY/CCA1–PRR9/7) is coupled to an evening oscillator (Y/GI–TOC1) via the original LHY/CCA1–TOC1 loop.
These clock models, like those for all other organisms, were developed using data from simple conditions of constant light, darkness or 12-h light–12-h dark cycles. We therefore tested how the clock genes in Arabidopsis responded to light–dark cycles with different photoperiods, from 3 h light to 18 h light per 24-h cycle (Edinburgh, 56° North latitude, has 17.5 h light in midsummer). The time-series assays of mRNA and in vivo reporter gene images showed a range of peak times for different genes, depending on the photoperiod (Figure 5C). A new data analysis method, mFourfit, was introduced to measure the peak times, in the Biological Rhythms Analysis Software Suite (BRASS v3.0). None of the genes showed the dusk-tracking behaviour characteristic of the Ipomoea flowering rhythm. The one-, two- and three-loop models were analysed to understand the observed patterns. A new mathematical measure, dusk sensitivity, was introduced to measure the change in timing of a model component versus a change in the time of dusk. The one- and two-loop models tracked dawn and dusk, respectively, under all conditions. Only the three-loop model (Figure 5B) had the flexibility required to match the photoperiod-dependent changes that we found in vivo, and in particular the unexpected, V-shaped pattern in the peak time of TOC1 expression. This pattern of regulation depends on the structure and light inputs to the model's evening oscillator, so the in vivo data supported this aspect of the model. LHY and CCA1 gene expression under short photoperiods showed greater dusk sensitivity, in the interval 2–6 h before dawn, than the three-loop model predicted, so these data will help to constrain future models.
The approach described here could act as a template for experimental biologists seeking to understand biological regulation using dynamic, experimental perturbations and time-series data. Simulation of mathematical models (despite known imperfections) can provide contrasting hypotheses that guide understanding. The system's detailed behaviour is complex, so a natural and general measure such as dusk sensitivity is helpful to focus on one property of the system. We used the measure to compare models, and to predict how this property could be manipulated. To enable additional analysis of this system, we provide the time-series data and experimental metadata online.
The circadian clock controls 24-h rhythms in many biological processes, allowing appropriate timing of biological rhythms relative to dawn and dusk. Known clock circuits include multiple, interlocked feedback loops. Theory suggested that multiple loops contribute the flexibility for molecular rhythms to track multiple phases of the external cycle. Clear dawn- and dusk-tracking rhythms illustrate the flexibility of timing in Ipomoea nil. Molecular clock components in Arabidopsis thaliana showed complex, photoperiod-dependent regulation, which was analysed by comparison with three contrasting models. A simple, quantitative measure, Dusk Sensitivity, was introduced to compare the behaviour of clock models with varying loop complexity. Evening-expressed clock genes showed photoperiod-dependent dusk sensitivity, as predicted by the three-loop model, whereas the one- and two-loop models tracked dawn and dusk, respectively. Output genes for starch degradation achieved dusk-tracking expression through light regulation, rather than a dusk-tracking rhythm. Model analysis predicted which biochemical processes could be manipulated to extend dusk tracking. Our results reveal how an operating principle of biological regulators applies specifically to the plant circadian clock.
doi:10.1038/msb.2010.81
PMCID: PMC3010117  PMID: 21045818
Arabidopsis thaliana; biological clocks; dynamical systems; gene regulatory networks; mathematical models; photoperiodism
11.  Genome-Wide Analysis of Light- and Temperature-Entrained Circadian Transcripts in Caenorhabditis elegans 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(10):e1000503.
Transcriptional profiling experiments identify light- and temperature-entrained circadian transcripts in C. elegans.
Most organisms have an endogenous circadian clock that is synchronized to environmental signals such as light and temperature. Although circadian rhythms have been described in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans at the behavioral level, these rhythms appear to be relatively non-robust. Moreover, in contrast to other animal models, no circadian transcriptional rhythms have been identified. Thus, whether this organism contains a bona fide circadian clock remains an open question. Here we use genome-wide expression profiling experiments to identify light- and temperature-entrained oscillating transcripts in C. elegans. These transcripts exhibit rhythmic expression with temperature-compensated 24-h periods. In addition, their expression is sustained under constant conditions, suggesting that they are under circadian regulation. Light and temperature cycles strongly drive gene expression and appear to entrain largely nonoverlapping gene sets. We show that mutations in a cyclic nucleotide-gated channel required for sensory transduction abolish both light- and temperature-entrained gene expression, implying that environmental cues act cell nonautonomously to entrain circadian rhythms. Together, these findings demonstrate circadian-regulated transcriptional rhythms in C. elegans and suggest that further analyses in this organism will provide new information about the evolution and function of this biological clock.
Author Summary
Daily (circadian) rhythms in behavior and physiology allow organisms to adapt to periodic cues such as light and temperature associated with the rotation of the earth. Subsets of molecular components of the internal clock that drive these rhythms, as well as effector genes for behavioral outputs, also exhibit rhythmic expression in many organisms. While circadian rhythms in behavior have previously been described in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, no transcriptional rhythms or clock genes have been identified, leaving open the question of the nature of the clock in this organism. Here, we identify light- and temperature-entrained cycling genes in C. elegans via genome-wide transcriptional profiling. Transcripts showing circadian regulation (including expression with a 24-h period maintained upon removal of the entraining stimulus) and temperature compensation were identified. Light and temperature appear to entrain independent sets of genes. We also identify large sets of light- or temperature-driven genes. Mutations in a channel gene previously implicated in sensory transduction in a small set of sensory neurons abolish entrainment of gene expression by environmental signals. This work demonstrates the presence of circadian transcriptional rhythms in C. elegans, and provides the foundation for future investigations into the underlying mechanisms.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000503
PMCID: PMC2953524  PMID: 20967231
12.  Genomic Convergence among ERRα, PROX1, and BMAL1 in the Control of Metabolic Clock Outputs 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002143.
Metabolic homeostasis and circadian rhythms are closely intertwined biological processes. Nuclear receptors, as sensors of hormonal and nutrient status, are actively implicated in maintaining this physiological relationship. Although the orphan nuclear receptor estrogen-related receptor α (ERRα, NR3B1) plays a central role in the control of energy metabolism and its expression is known to be cyclic in the liver, its role in temporal control of metabolic networks is unknown. Here we report that ERRα directly regulates all major components of the molecular clock. ERRα-null mice also display deregulated locomotor activity rhythms and circadian period lengths under free-running conditions, as well as altered circulating diurnal bile acid and lipid profiles. In addition, the ERRα-null mice exhibit time-dependent hypoglycemia and hypoinsulinemia, suggesting a role for ERRα in modulating insulin sensitivity and glucose handling during the 24-hour light/dark cycle. We also provide evidence that the newly identified ERRα corepressor PROX1 is implicated in rhythmic control of metabolic outputs. To help uncover the molecular basis of these phenotypes, we performed genome-wide location analyses of binding events by ERRα, PROX1, and BMAL1, an integral component of the molecular clock. These studies revealed the existence of transcriptional regulatory loops among ERRα, PROX1, and BMAL1, as well as extensive overlaps in their target genes, implicating these three factors in the control of clock and metabolic gene networks in the liver. Genomic convergence of ERRα, PROX1, and BMAL1 transcriptional activity thus identified a novel node in the molecular circuitry controlling the daily timing of metabolic processes.
Author Summary
The molecular basis for coordinated control of circadian rhythms and metabolism is not well understood. Although integral components of the molecular clock such as the transcription factor BMAL1 can directly regulate some metabolic genes, the output from the circadian oscillator is believed to be in large part mediated through the action of transcription factors whose patterns of expression are rhythmic in metabolic tissues. The estrogen-related receptor α (ERRα, NR3B1) and its corepressor PROX1, two major metabolic regulators, could be well suited for this function. Indeed, we show that proper maintenance of daily glucose, insulin, bile acid, lipid, and locomotor rhythms in mice are dependent on the presence of ERRα. Ablation of PROX1 in synchronized HepG2 cells revealed the importance of PROX1 in regulating the rhythmic expression of clock and metabolic genes. Using genome-wide analysis of promoter occupancy and gene expression analyses, we identify ERRα and PROX1 as novel transcriptional regulators of the molecular clock and show that the direct participation of BMAL1 in the clock output pathway related to metabolic control is highly extensive. ERRα and BMAL1 thus serve as key bidirectional regulators connecting the peripheral clock and cellular energy metabolism.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002143
PMCID: PMC3121748  PMID: 21731503
13.  Genome-Wide Analysis of SREBP1 Activity around the Clock Reveals Its Combined Dependency on Nutrient and Circadian Signals 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(3):e1004155.
In mammals, the circadian clock allows them to anticipate and adapt physiology around the 24 hours. Conversely, metabolism and food consumption regulate the internal clock, pointing the existence of an intricate relationship between nutrient state and circadian homeostasis that is far from being understood. The Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 1 (SREBP1) is a key regulator of lipid homeostasis. Hepatic SREBP1 function is influenced by the nutrient-response cycle, but also by the circadian machinery. To systematically understand how the interplay of circadian clock and nutrient-driven rhythm regulates SREBP1 activity, we evaluated the genome-wide binding of SREBP1 to its targets throughout the day in C57BL/6 mice. The recruitment of SREBP1 to the DNA showed a highly circadian behaviour, with a maximum during the fed status. However, the temporal expression of SREBP1 targets was not always synchronized with its binding pattern. In particular, different expression phases were observed for SREBP1 target genes depending on their function, suggesting the involvement of other transcription factors in their regulation. Binding sites for Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4 (HNF4) were specifically enriched in the close proximity of SREBP1 peaks of genes, whose expression was shifted by about 8 hours with respect to SREBP1 binding. Thus, the cross-talk between hepatic HNF4 and SREBP1 may underlie the expression timing of this subgroup of SREBP1 targets. Interestingly, the proper temporal expression profile of these genes was dramatically changed in Bmal1−/− mice upon time-restricted feeding, for which a rhythmic, but slightly delayed, binding of SREBP1 was maintained. Collectively, our results show that besides the nutrient-driven regulation of SREBP1 nuclear translocation, a second layer of modulation of SREBP1 transcriptional activity, strongly dependent from the circadian clock, exists. This system allows us to fine tune the expression timing of SREBP1 target genes, thus helping to temporally separate the different physiological processes in which these genes are involved.
Author Summary
Circadian rhythmicity is part of our innate behavior and controls many physiological processes, such as sleeping and waking, activity, neurotransmitter production and a number of metabolic pathways. In mammals, the central circadian pacemaker in the hypothalamus is entrained on a daily basis by environmental cues (i.e. light), thus setting the period length and synchronizing the rhythms of all cells in the body. In the last decades, numerous investigations have highlighted the importance of the internal timekeeping mechanism for maintenance of organism health and longevity. Indeed, the reciprocal regulation of circadian clock and metabolism is now commonly accepted, although still poorly understood at the molecular level. Our global analysis of DNA binding along the day of Sterol Regulatory Element Binding Protein 1 (SREBP1), a key regulator of lipid biosynthesis, represents the first tool to comprehensively explore how its activity is connected to circadian-driven regulatory events. We show that the regulation of SREBP1 action by nutrients relies mainly on the control of its subcellular localization, while the circadian clock influences the promoter specific activity of SREBP1 within the nucleus. Furthermore, we identify the Hepatocyte Nuclear Factor 4 (HNF4) as a putative player in the cross-talk between molecular clock and metabolic regulation.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004155
PMCID: PMC3945117  PMID: 24603613
14.  Analysis of Gene Regulatory Networks in the Mammalian Circadian Rhythm 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(10):e1000193.
Circadian rhythm is fundamental in regulating a wide range of cellular, metabolic, physiological, and behavioral activities in mammals. Although a small number of key circadian genes have been identified through extensive molecular and genetic studies in the past, the existence of other key circadian genes and how they drive the genomewide circadian oscillation of gene expression in different tissues still remains unknown. Here we try to address these questions by integrating all available circadian microarray data in mammals. We identified 41 common circadian genes that showed circadian oscillation in a wide range of mouse tissues with a remarkable consistency of circadian phases across tissues. Comparisons across mouse, rat, rhesus macaque, and human showed that the circadian phases of known key circadian genes were delayed for 4–5 hours in rat compared to mouse and 8–12 hours in macaque and human compared to mouse. A systematic gene regulatory network for the mouse circadian rhythm was constructed after incorporating promoter analysis and transcription factor knockout or mutant microarray data. We observed the significant association of cis-regulatory elements: EBOX, DBOX, RRE, and HSE with the different phases of circadian oscillating genes. The analysis of the network structure revealed the paths through which light, food, and heat can entrain the circadian clock and identified that NR3C1 and FKBP/HSP90 complexes are central to the control of circadian genes through diverse environmental signals. Our study improves our understanding of the structure, design principle, and evolution of gene regulatory networks involved in the mammalian circadian rhythm.
Author Summary
Circadian rhythm is universally present from unicellular organisms to complex organisms and plays an important role in physiological processes such as the sleep–wake cycle in mammals. The mammalian circadian rhythm presents an excellent system for studying gene regulatory networks as a large number of genes are undergoing circadian oscillation in their expression levels. By integrating all available microarray experiments on circadian rhythm in different tissues and species in mammals, we identified a set of common circadian genes lying in the center of the circadian clock. Significant differences in the circadian oscillation of gene expression among mouse, rat, macaque, and human have been observed that underlie their physiological and behavioral differences. We constructed a gene regulatory network for the mouse circadian rhythm using knockout or mutant microarray data that have previously received little attention. Further analysis revealed not only additional feedback loops in the network contributing to the robustness of the circadian clock but also how environmental factors such as light, food, and heat can entrain the circadian rhythm. Our study provides the first gene regulatory network of the mammalian circadian rhythm at the system level. It is also the first attempt to compare gene regulatory networks of circadian rhythm in different mammalian species.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000193
PMCID: PMC2543109  PMID: 18846204
15.  Usf1, a suppressor of the circadian Clock mutant, reveals the nature of the DNA-binding of the CLOCK:BMAL1 complex in mice 
eLife  2013;2:e00426.
Genetic and molecular approaches have been critical for elucidating the mechanism of the mammalian circadian clock. Here, we demonstrate that the ClockΔ19 mutant behavioral phenotype is significantly modified by mouse strain genetic background. We map a suppressor of the ClockΔ19 mutation to a ∼900 kb interval on mouse chromosome 1 and identify the transcription factor, Usf1, as the responsible gene. A SNP in the promoter of Usf1 causes elevation of its transcript and protein in strains that suppress the Clock mutant phenotype. USF1 competes with the CLOCK:BMAL1 complex for binding to E-box sites in target genes. Saturation binding experiments demonstrate reduced affinity of the CLOCKΔ19:BMAL1 complex for E-box sites, thereby permitting increased USF1 occupancy on a genome-wide basis. We propose that USF1 is an important modulator of molecular and behavioral circadian rhythms in mammals.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00426.001
eLife digest
Circadian rhythms are biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes that follow a 24-hr cycle, responding primarily to the periods of light and dark, and they have been observed in bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. The circadian clock that drives these rhythms—which dictate our sleep patterns and other processes—involves a set of genes and proteins that participate in a collection of positive and negative feedback loops.
Previous research has mainly focused on identifying core clock genes—that is, genes that make up the molecular clock—and studying the functions of these genes and the proteins they code for. However, it has become clear that other clock genes are also involved in circadian behavior, and it has been proposed that polymorphisms in these non-core clock genes could contribute to the variations in circadian behavior displayed by different mammals.
One important feedback loop in mammals involves two key transcription factors, CLOCK and BMAL1, that combine to form a complex that initiates the transcription of the negative feedback genes, Period and Cryptochrome. Shimomura et al. discovered that Usf1, a gene that codes for a transcription factor that is typically involved in lipid and carbohydrate metabolism, as well as other cellular processes, is also important. In particular, this transcription factor is capable of partially rescuing an abnormal circadian rhythm caused by a mutation in the Clock gene in mice.
Shimomura et al. showed that the proteins expressed by the mutant Clock gene can bind to the same regulatory sites in the genome as the normal CLOCK:BMAL1 complex, but that gene expression of these targets is reduced because transcriptional activation is lower and binding of the complex is not as strong. However, proteins expressed by the Usf1 gene are able to counter this by binding to the same sites in the genome and compensating for the mutant CLOCK protein. Further experiments are needed to explore how the interactions between the USF1 and CLOCK:BMAL1 transcriptional networks regulate circadian rhythms and, possibly, carbohydrate and lipid metabolism as well.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.00426.002
doi:10.7554/eLife.00426
PMCID: PMC3622178  PMID: 23580255
Clock gene; USF1; genetic modifier; circadian rhythms; mouse genetics; ChIP-Seq; Mouse
16.  An Autonomous Circadian Clock in the Inner Mouse Retina Regulated by Dopamine and GABA 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(10):1-18.
The influence of the mammalian retinal circadian clock on retinal physiology and function is widely recognized, yet the cellular elements and neural regulation of retinal circadian pacemaking remain unclear due to the challenge of long-term culture of adult mammalian retina and the lack of an ideal experimental measure of the retinal circadian clock. In the current study, we developed a protocol for long-term culture of intact mouse retinas, which allows retinal circadian rhythms to be monitored in real time as luminescence rhythms from a PERIOD2::LUCIFERASE (PER2::LUC) clock gene reporter. With this in vitro assay, we studied the characteristics and location within the retina of circadian PER2::LUC rhythms, the influence of major retinal neurotransmitters, and the resetting of the retinal circadian clock by light. Retinal PER2::LUC rhythms were routinely measured from whole-mount retinal explants for 10 d and for up to 30 d. Imaging of vertical retinal slices demonstrated that the rhythmic luminescence signals were concentrated in the inner nuclear layer. Interruption of cell communication via the major neurotransmitter systems of photoreceptors and ganglion cells (melatonin and glutamate) and the inner nuclear layer (dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, glycine, and glutamate) did not disrupt generation of retinal circadian PER2::LUC rhythms, nor did interruption of intercellular communication through sodium-dependent action potentials or connexin 36 (cx36)-containing gap junctions, indicating that PER2::LUC rhythms generation in the inner nuclear layer is likely cell autonomous. However, dopamine, acting through D1 receptors, and GABA, acting through membrane hyperpolarization and casein kinase, set the phase and amplitude of retinal PER2::LUC rhythms, respectively. Light pulses reset the phase of the in vitro retinal oscillator and dopamine D1 receptor antagonists attenuated these phase shifts. Thus, dopamine and GABA act at the molecular level of PER proteins to play key roles in the organization of the retinal circadian clock.
Author Summary
The circadian clock in the mammalian retina regulates many retinal functions, and its output modulates the central circadian clock in the brain. Details about the cellular location and neural regulation of the mammalian retinal circadian clock remain unclear, however, largely due to the difficulty of maintaining long-term culture of adult mammalian retina and the lack of an ideal experimental measure of the retinal clock. We have circumvented these limitations by developing a protocol for long-term culture of intact mouse retinas to monitor circadian rhythms of clock gene expression in real time. Using this protocol, we have localized expression of molecular retinal circadian rhythms to the inner nuclear layer. We find molecular retinal rhythms generation is independent of many forms of signaling from photoreceptors and ganglion cells, or major forms of neural communication within the inner nuclear layer, and have characterized light-induced resetting of the retinal clock. Retinal dopamine and GABA, although not necessary for the generation of molecular retinal rhythms, were revealed to regulate the phase and amplitude of retinal molecular rhythms, respectively, with dopamine participating in light-induced resetting. Our data indicate that dopamine and GABA play prominent roles in the organization of the retinal circadian clock.
Long-term culture of mouse retinas reveals a circadian clock in the inner retina that can be reset by light and is regulated by the neurotransmitters dopamine and GABA.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060249
PMCID: PMC2567003  PMID: 18959477
17.  Synergistic Interactions between the Molecular and Neuronal Circadian Networks Drive Robust Behavioral Circadian Rhythms in Drosophila melanogaster 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(4):e1004252.
Most organisms use 24-hr circadian clocks to keep temporal order and anticipate daily environmental changes. In Drosophila melanogaster CLOCK (CLK) and CYCLE (CYC) initiates the circadian system by promoting rhythmic transcription of hundreds of genes. However, it is still not clear whether high amplitude transcriptional oscillations are essential for circadian timekeeping. In order to address this issue, we generated flies in which the amplitude of CLK-driven transcription can be reduced partially (approx. 60%) or strongly (90%) without affecting the average levels of CLK-target genes. The impaired transcriptional oscillations lead to low amplitude protein oscillations that were not sufficient to drive outputs of peripheral oscillators. However, circadian rhythms in locomotor activity were resistant to partial reduction in transcriptional and protein oscillations. We found that the resilience of the brain oscillator is depending on the neuronal communication among circadian neurons in the brain. Indeed, the capacity of the brain oscillator to overcome low amplitude transcriptional oscillations depends on the action of the neuropeptide PDF and on the pdf-expressing cells having equal or higher amplitude of molecular rhythms than the rest of the circadian neuronal groups in the fly brain. Therefore, our work reveals the importance of high amplitude transcriptional oscillations for cell-autonomous circadian timekeeping. Moreover, we demonstrate that the circadian neuronal network is an essential buffering system that protects against changes in circadian transcription in the brain.
Author Summary
Circadian clocks allow organisms to predict daily environmental changes. These clocks time the sleep/wake cycles and many other physiological and cellular pathways to 24hs rhythms. The current model states that circadian clocks keep time by the use of biochemical feedback loops. These feedback loops are responsible for the generation of high amplitude oscillations in gene expression. Abolishment of circadian transcriptional oscillations has been shown to abolish circadian function. Previous studies addressing this issue utilize manipulations in which the abolishment of the transcriptional oscillations is very dramatic and involves strong up or down-regulation of circadian genes. In this study we generated fruit flies in which we diminished the amplitude of circadian oscillations in a controlled way. We found that a decrease of more than 50% in the amplitude of circadian oscillations leads to impaired function of circadian physiological outputs in the periphery but does not significantly affect circadian behavior. This suggests that the clock in the brain has a specific compensatory mechanism. Moreover, we found that flies with reduced oscillation and impaired circadian neuronal communication display aberrant circadian rhythms. These finding support the idea of network buffering mechanisms that allows the brain to produce circadian rhythms even with low amplitude molecular oscillations.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004252
PMCID: PMC3974645  PMID: 24698952
18.  High-Throughput Chemical Screen Identifies a Novel Potent Modulator of Cellular Circadian Rhythms and Reveals CKIα as a Clock Regulatory Kinase 
PLoS Biology  2010;8(12):e1000559.
A novel compound “longdaysin” was found to dramatically slow down the speed of the circadian clock through simultaneous inhibition of protein kinases CKIδ, CKIα, and ERK2.
The circadian clock underlies daily rhythms of diverse physiological processes, and alterations in clock function have been linked to numerous pathologies. To apply chemical biology methods to modulate and dissect the clock mechanism with new chemical probes, we performed a circadian screen of ∼120,000 uncharacterized compounds on human cells containing a circadian reporter. The analysis identified a small molecule that potently lengthens the circadian period in a dose-dependent manner. Subsequent analysis showed that the compound also lengthened the period in a variety of cells from different tissues including the mouse suprachiasmatic nucleus, the central clock controlling behavioral rhythms. Based on the prominent period lengthening effect, we named the compound longdaysin. Longdaysin was amenable for chemical modification to perform affinity chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry analysis to identify target proteins. Combined with siRNA-mediated gene knockdown, we identified the protein kinases CKIδ, CKIα, and ERK2 as targets of longdaysin responsible for the observed effect on circadian period. Although individual knockdown of CKIδ, CKIα, and ERK2 had small period effects, their combinatorial knockdown dramatically lengthened the period similar to longdaysin treatment. We characterized the role of CKIα in the clock mechanism and found that CKIα-mediated phosphorylation stimulated degradation of a clock protein PER1, similar to the function of CKIδ. Longdaysin treatment inhibited PER1 degradation, providing insight into the mechanism of longdaysin-dependent period lengthening. Using larval zebrafish, we further demonstrated that longdaysin drastically lengthened circadian period in vivo. Taken together, the chemical biology approach not only revealed CKIα as a clock regulatory kinase but also identified a multiple kinase network conferring robustness to the clock. Longdaysin provides novel possibilities in manipulating clock function due to its ability to simultaneously inhibit several key components of this conserved network across species.
Author Summary
Most organisms show daily rhythms in physiology, behavior, and metabolism, which may be advantageous because they anticipate environmental changes thus optimize energy metabolism. These rhythms are controlled by the circadian clock, which produces cyclic expression of thousands of output genes. More than a dozen components of the circadian clock are called clock genes, and the proteins they encode form a transcription factor network that generates rhythmic gene expression. In this study, we set out to control the function of the circadian clock and to identify new clock proteins by means of chemical tools. We tested the effects on the clock in human cells of around 120,000 uncharacterized compounds. Here we describe identification of a novel compound “longdaysin” that markedly slows the circadian clock both in cultured mammalian cells and in living zebrafish. By using longdaysin as a chemical probe, we found new proteins that modulate clock function. Because defects of clock function have been linked to numerous diseases, longdaysin may form the basis for therapeutic strategies directed towards circadian rhythm-related disorders, shift-work fatigue, and jet lag.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000559
PMCID: PMC3001897  PMID: 21179498
19.  Harmonics of Circadian Gene Transcription in Mammals 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(4):e1000442.
The circadian clock is a molecular and cellular oscillator found in most mammalian tissues that regulates rhythmic physiology and behavior. Numerous investigations have addressed the contribution of circadian rhythmicity to cellular, organ, and organismal physiology. We recently developed a method to look at transcriptional oscillations with unprecedented precision and accuracy using high-density time sampling. Here, we report a comparison of oscillating transcription from mouse liver, NIH3T3, and U2OS cells. Several surprising observations resulted from this study, including a 100-fold difference in the number of cycling transcripts in autonomous cellular models of the oscillator versus tissues harvested from intact mice. Strikingly, we found two clusters of genes that cycle at the second and third harmonic of circadian rhythmicity in liver, but not cultured cells. Validation experiments show that 12-hour oscillatory transcripts occur in several other peripheral tissues as well including heart, kidney, and lungs. These harmonics are lost ex vivo, as well as under restricted feeding conditions. Taken in sum, these studies illustrate the importance of time sampling with respect to multiple testing, suggest caution in use of autonomous cellular models to study clock output, and demonstrate the existence of harmonics of circadian gene expression in the mouse.
Author Summary
Circadian rhythms confer adaptive advantages by allowing organisms to anticipate daily changes in their environment. Over the last few years, many groups have used microarray technology to systematically identify genes under circadian regulation. We have extended on these studies by profiling the circadian transcriptome from the mouse liver and two immortalized cell lines at an unprecedentedly high temporal resolution. We identified over 3,000 different transcripts in the mouse liver that cycle with a period length of approximately 24 hours. To our surprise, we also identified two classes of genes which cycle with period lengths of 12 and 8 hours; i.e., harmonics of the circadian clock. Importantly, we were able to identify harmonics in five other tissue types; however, these rhythms were undetectable in disassociated cells. Moreover, harmonics were lost in the liver when mice are subjected to restricted feeding, suggesting that at least one component of circadian harmonics is driven by feeding.
doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1000442
PMCID: PMC2654964  PMID: 19343201
20.  The Output Signal of Purkinje Cells of the Cerebellum and Circadian Rhythmicity 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58457.
Measurement of clock gene expression has recently provided evidence that the cerebellum, like the master clock in the SCN, contains a circadian oscillator. The cerebellar oscillator is involved in anticipation of mealtime and possibly resides in Purkinje cells. However, the rhythmic gene expression is likely transduced into a circadian cerebellar output signal to exert an effective control of neuronal brain circuits that are responsible for feeding behavior. Using electrophysiological recordings from acute and organotypic cerebellar slices, we tested the hypothesis whether Purkinje cells transmit a circadian modulated signal to their targets in the brain. Extracellular recordings from brain slices revealed the typical discharge pattern previously described in vivo in single cell recordings showing basically a tonic or a trimodal-like firing pattern. However, in acute sagittal cerebellar slices the average spike rate of randomly selected Purkinje cells did not exhibit significant circadian variations, irrespective of their specific firing pattern. Also, frequency and amplitude of spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents and the amplitude of GABA- and glutamate-evoked currents did not vary with circadian time. Long-term recordings using multielectrode arrays (MEA) allowed to monitor neuronal activity at multiple sites in organotypic cerebellar slices for several days to weeks. With this recording technique we observed oscillations of the firing rate of cerebellar neurons, presumably of Purkinje cells, with a period of about 24 hours which were stable for periods up to three days. The daily renewal of culture medium could induce circadian oscillations of the firing rate of Purkinje cells, a feature that is compatible with the behavior of slave oscillators. However, from the present results it appears that the circadian expression of cerebellar clock genes exerts only a weak influence on the electrical output of cerebellar neurons.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058457
PMCID: PMC3591352  PMID: 23505510
21.  Genome-Wide and Phase-Specific DNA-Binding Rhythms of BMAL1 Control Circadian Output Functions in Mouse Liver 
PLoS Biology  2011;9(2):e1000595.
Temporal mapping during a circadian day of binding sites for the BMAL1 transcription factor in mouse liver reveals genome-wide daily rhythms in DNA binding and uncovers output functions that are controlled by the circadian oscillator.
The mammalian circadian clock uses interlocked negative feedback loops in which the heterodimeric basic helix-loop-helix transcription factor BMAL1/CLOCK is a master regulator. While there is prominent control of liver functions by the circadian clock, the detailed links between circadian regulators and downstream targets are poorly known. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation combined with deep sequencing we obtained a time-resolved and genome-wide map of BMAL1 binding in mouse liver, which allowed us to identify over 2,000 binding sites, with peak binding narrowly centered around Zeitgeber time 6. Annotation of BMAL1 targets confirms carbohydrate and lipid metabolism as the major output of the circadian clock in mouse liver. Moreover, transcription regulators are largely overrepresented, several of which also exhibit circadian activity. Genes of the core circadian oscillator stand out as strongly bound, often at promoter and distal sites. Genomic sequence analysis of the sites identified E-boxes and tandem E1-E2 consensus elements. Electromobility shift assays showed that E1-E2 sites are bound by a dimer of BMAL1/CLOCK heterodimers with a spacing-dependent cooperative interaction, a finding that was further validated in transactivation assays. BMAL1 target genes showed cyclic mRNA expression profiles with a phase distribution centered at Zeitgeber time 10. Importantly, sites with E1-E2 elements showed tighter phases both in binding and mRNA accumulation. Finally, analyzing the temporal profiles of BMAL1 binding, precursor mRNA and mature mRNA levels showed how transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation contribute differentially to circadian expression phase. Together, our analysis of a dynamic protein-DNA interactome uncovered how genes of the core circadian oscillator crosstalk and drive phase-specific circadian output programs in a complex tissue.
Author Summary
The circadian clock is a timing system that allows organisms to keep behavioral, physiological, and cellular rhythms in resonance with daily environmental cycles. In mammals, such clocks use transcriptional regulatory loops in which the heterodimeric transcription factor BMAL1/CLOCK plays a central role. While defects in circadian clock function have been associated with diabetes, obesity, and cancer, the molecular links between the circadian clock and such output pathways are poorly characterized. Here, we mapped DNA-binding sites of BMAL1 in mouse liver during one circadian cycle. Our temporal analysis revealed widespread daily rhythms in DNA binding, with maximum levels peaking at midday. In the list of candidates, core circadian genes stood out as the most strongly bound, often showing multiple binding sites. Interestingly, BMAL1 targets were highly enriched in genes involved in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, and also in transcription factors, in particular nuclear receptors. Our results suggest that the mammalian clock uses BMAL1 to control transcriptional output programs both directly and indirectly. Additionally, the DNA specificity of BMAL1 binding revealed the importance of tandem E-box elements, which may favor strong binding and precise timing of daily gene expression. Taken together, our work confirms BMAL1's primary function as a master regulator of the core circadian oscillator, while demonstrating that it also contributes in a more distributed fashion to a variety of output programs.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000595
PMCID: PMC3043000  PMID: 21364973
22.  Developmental and light-entrained expression of melatonin and its relationship to the circadian clock in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis 
EvoDevo  2014;5:26.
Background
The primary hormone of the vertebrate pineal gland, melatonin, has been identified broadly throughout the eukaryotes. While the role for melatonin in cyclic behavior via interactions with the circadian clock has only been reported in vertebrates, comparative research has shown that the transcription-translation loops of the animal circadian clock likely date to the cnidarian-bilaterian ancestor, leaving open significant questions about the evolutionary origin of melatonin signaling in circadian behavior by interacting with the molecular clock.
Results
Expression of melatonin in adult anemones showed peak expression at the end of light period (zeitgeber time (ZT) = 12) when cultured under diel conditions, coinciding with expression of genes and enzyme activity for members of the melatonin synthesis pathway (tryptophan hydroxylase and hydroxyindol-O-methyltransferase), which also showed rhythmic expression. During embryogenesis and juvenile stages, melatonin showed cyclic oscillations in concentration, peaking in midday. Spatial (in situ hybridization) and quantitative (real-time PCR) transcription of clock genes during development of N. vectensis showed these ‘clock’ genes are expressed early in the development, prior to rhythmic oscillations, suggesting functions independent of a function in the circadian clock. Finally, time-course studies revealed that animals transferred from diel conditions to constant darkness lose circadian expression for most of the clock genes within 4 days, which can be reset by melatonin supplementation.
Conclusions
Our results support an ancient role for melatonin in the circadian behavior of animals by showing cyclic expression of this hormone under diel conditions, light-dependent oscillations in genes in the melatonin synthesis pathway, and the function of melatonin in initiating expression of circadian clock genes in the cnidarian N. vectensis. The differences in expression melatonin and the circadian clock gene network in the adult stage when compared with developmental stages of N. vectensis suggests new research directions to characterize stage-specific mechanisms of circadian clock function in animals.
doi:10.1186/2041-9139-5-26
PMCID: PMC4169136  PMID: 25243057
Circadian clock; Embryogenesis; In situ hybridization; Melatonin
23.  Analysis of a Gene Regulatory Cascade Mediating Circadian Rhythm in Zebrafish 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(2):e1002940.
In the study of circadian rhythms, it has been a puzzle how a limited number of circadian clock genes can control diverse aspects of physiology. Here we investigate circadian gene expression genome-wide using larval zebrafish as a model system. We made use of a spatial gene expression atlas to investigate the expression of circadian genes in various tissues and cell types. Comparison of genome-wide circadian gene expression data between zebrafish and mouse revealed a nearly anti-phase relationship and allowed us to detect novel evolutionarily conserved circadian genes in vertebrates. We identified three groups of zebrafish genes with distinct responses to light entrainment: fast light-induced genes, slow light-induced genes, and dark-induced genes. Our computational analysis of the circadian gene regulatory network revealed several transcription factors (TFs) involved in diverse aspects of circadian physiology through transcriptional cascade. Of these, microphthalmia-associated transcription factor a (mitfa), a dark-induced TF, mediates a circadian rhythm of melanin synthesis, which may be involved in zebrafish's adaptation to daily light cycling. Our study describes a systematic method to discover previously unidentified TFs involved in circadian physiology in complex organisms.
Author Summary
For most animals whose lives are dependent on the sun, circadian clocks govern their daily behaviors and physiology. In different animals, novel functions under the circadian clock's control can evolve as adaptations to their specific environment. A zebrafish demonstrates a remarkably high level of interplay between external light and its internal circadian clock due to its transparent nature. In a genome-wide study, we identified a large number of circadian oscillating genes as well as genes whose expression is highly sensitive to the light or dark in zebrafish. Our computational analysis of gene regulatory networks revealed a number of transcription factors (TFs) that mediate novel circadian functions. We investigated one example in depth, a key TF that relays the control of the circadian clock to the enzymes synthesizing melanin in a dark-induced pathway thus causing the daily change of pigmentation in zebrafish. This dark-induced circadian melanogenesis can lead to an anticipatory change in zebrafish skin color allowing zebrafish to adapt to its environment. This mechanism allows zebrafish to better evade predators and effectively adjust its daily light-sensitivity in the pigment cells. Our study provides an excellent example of how the circadian clock is adapted in a specific organism to control its behavior, thus enabling evolutionary adaptation to the organism's ecological niche.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002940
PMCID: PMC3585402  PMID: 23468616
24.  The Neuropeptide PDF Acts Directly on Evening Pacemaker Neurons to Regulate Multiple Features of Circadian Behavior 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(7):e1000154.
Animals use distinct sets of clock neurons to time behaviors in the morning and evening. In this article, the direct neural targets for morning neurons and the neuropeptide pigment dispersing factor are revealed in the fruit fly.
Discrete clusters of circadian clock neurons temporally organize daily behaviors such as sleep and wake. In Drosophila, a network of just 150 neurons drives two peaks of timed activity in the morning and evening. A subset of these neurons expresses the neuropeptide pigment dispersing factor (PDF), which is important for promoting morning behavior as well as maintaining robust free-running rhythmicity in constant conditions. Yet, how PDF acts on downstream circuits to mediate rhythmic behavior is unknown. Using circuit-directed rescue of PDF receptor mutants, we show that PDF targeting of just ∼30 non-PDF evening circadian neurons is sufficient to drive morning behavior. This function is not accompanied by large changes in core molecular oscillators in light-dark, indicating that PDF RECEPTOR likely regulates the output of these cells under these conditions. We find that PDF also acts on this focused set of non-PDF neurons to regulate both evening activity phase and period length, consistent with modest resetting effects on core oscillators. PDF likely acts on more distributed pacemaker neuron targets, including the PDF neurons themselves, to regulate rhythmic strength. Here we reveal defining features of the circuit-diagram for PDF peptide function in circadian behavior, revealing the direct neuronal targets of PDF as well as its behavioral functions at those sites. These studies define a key direct output circuit sufficient for multiple PDF dependent behaviors.
Author Summary
Animals depend on being awake at the right time of day to find food and mates and fend off predators. Circadian pacemaker neurons in the brain play a crucial role in timing of specific behaviors to the appropriate times of day. These neurons are further specialized to those primarily responsible for morning and evening behavior. We have used the fruit fly Drosophila as a simple model system to elucidate the neural circuits important for timed daily behavior. In flies, a small group of clock neurons devoted to morning behavior express a neuropeptide, PIGMENT DISPERSING FACTOR (PDF). Until now it was unclear what the direct neural targets of this peptide are and how its actions at those targets mediate timed behavior. Here we find that the so-called morning clock neurons communicate directly to other clock neurons, those responsible for evening behavior. This communication sustains high amplitude morning activity and sets the phase of evening activity as well as the period of activity rhythms in constant conditions. These studies reveal the circuit diagram for PDF function in circadian behavior.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000154
PMCID: PMC2702683  PMID: 19621061
25.  Characterization of Circadian Behavior in the Starlet Sea Anemone, Nematostella vectensis 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46843.
Background
Although much is known about how circadian systems control daily cycles in the physiology and behavior of Drosophila and several vertebrate models, marine invertebrates have often been overlooked in circadian rhythms research. This study focuses on the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, a species that has received increasing attention within the scientific community for its potential as a model research organism. The recently sequenced genome of N. vectensis makes it an especially attractive model for exploring the molecular evolution of circadian behavior. Critical behavioral data needed to correlate gene expression patterns to specific behaviors are currently lacking in N. vectensis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To detect the presence of behavioral oscillations in N. vectensis, locomotor activity was evaluated using an automated system in an environmentally controlled chamber. Animals exposed to a 24 hr photoperiod (12 hr light: 12 hr dark) exhibited locomotor behavior that was both rhythmic and predominantly nocturnal. The activity peak occurred in the early half of the night with a 2-fold increase in locomotion. Upon transfer to constant lighting conditions (constant light or constant dark), an approximately 24 hr rhythm persisted in most animals, suggesting that the rhythm is controlled by an endogenous circadian mechanism. Fourier analysis revealed the presence of multiple peaks in some animals suggesting additional rhythmic components could be present. In particular, an approximately 12 hr oscillation was often observed. The nocturnal increase in generalized locomotion corresponded to a 24 hr oscillation in animal elongation.
Conclusions/Significance
These data confirm the presence of a light-entrainable circadian clock in Nematostella vectensis. Additional components observed in some individuals indicate that an endogenous clock of approximately 12 hr frequency may also be present. By describing rhythmic locomotor behavior in N. vectensis, we have made important progress in developing the sea anemone as a model organism for circadian rhythm research.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046843
PMCID: PMC3467289  PMID: 23056482

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