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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.
PMCID: PMC1783671  PMID: 17298173
2.  Entrainment of breast (cancer) epithelial cells detects distinct circadian oscillation patterns for clock and hormone receptor genes 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(2):350-360.
Most physiological and biological processes are regulated by endogenous circadian rhythms under the control of both a master clock, which acts systemically and individual cellular clocks, which act at the single cell level. The cellular clock is based on a network of core clock genes, which drive the circadian expression of non-clock genes involved in many cellular processes. Circadian deregulation of gene expression has emerged to be as important as deregulation of estrogen signaling in breast tumorigenesis. Whether there is a mutual deregulation of circadian and hormone signaling is the question that we address in this study. Here we show that, upon entrainment by serum shock, cultured human mammary epithelial cells maintain an inner circadian oscillator, with key clock genes oscillating in a circadian fashion. In the same cells, the expression of the estrogen receptor α (ERA) gene also oscillates in a circadian fashion. In contrast, ERA-positive and -negative breast cancer epithelial cells show disruption of the inner clock. Further, ERA-positive breast cancer cells do not display circadian oscillation of ERA expression. Our findings suggest that estrogen signaling could be affected not only in ERA-negative breast cancer, but also in ERA-positive breast cancer due to lack of circadian availability of ERA. Entrainment of the inner clock of breast epithelial cells, by taking into consideration the biological time component, provides a novel tool to test mechanistically whether defective circadian mechanisms can affect hormone signaling relevant to breast cancer.
PMCID: PMC3293384  PMID: 22193044
circadian rhythm; clock genes; estrogen receptor alpha (ERA); breast cancer cells; entrainment; serum shock
3.  Neurospora Clock-Controlled Gene 9 (ccg-9) Encodes Trehalose Synthase: Circadian Regulation of Stress Responses and Development 
Eukaryotic Cell  2002;1(1):33-43.
The circadian clock of Neurospora crassa regulates the rhythmic expression of a number of genes encoding diverse functions which, as an ensemble, are adaptive to life in a rhythmic environment of alternating levels of light and dark, warmth and coolness, and dryness and humidity. Previous differential screens have identified a number of such genes based solely on their cycling expression, including clock-controlled gene 9 (ccg-9). Sequence analysis now shows the predicted CCG-9 polypeptide to be homologous to a novel form of trehalose synthase; as such it would catalyze the synthesis of the disaccharide trehalose, which plays an important role in protecting many cells from environmental stresses. Consistent with this, heat, glucose starvation, and osmotic stress induce ccg-9 transcript accumulation. Surprisingly, however, a parallel role in development is suggested by the finding that inactivation of ccg-9 results in altered conidiophore morphology and abolishes the normal circadian rhythm of asexual macroconidial development. Examination of a clock component, FRQ, in the ccg-9-null strain revealed normal cycling, phosphorylation, and light induction, indicating that loss of the conidiation rhythm is not due to changes in either the circadian oscillator or light input into the clock but pointing instead to a defect in circadian output. These data imply an interplay between a role of trehalose in stress protection and an apparent requirement for trehalose in clock regulation of conidiation under constant environmental conditions. This requirement can be bypassed by a daily light signal which drives a light-entrained rhythm in conidiation in the ccg-9-null strain; this bypass suggests that the trehalose requirement is related to clock control of development and not to the developmental process itself. Circadian control of trehalose synthase suggests a link between clock control of stress responses and that of development.
PMCID: PMC118043  PMID: 12455969
4.  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.
PMCID: PMC2567003  PMID: 18959477
5.  Identification of an estrogen-regulated circadian mechanism necessary for breast acinar morphogenesis 
Cell Cycle  2012;11(19):3691-3700.
Altered estrogen receptor α (ERA) signaling and altered circadian rhythms are both features of breast cancer. By using a method to entrain circadian oscillations in human cultured cells, we recently reported that the expression of key clock genes oscillates in a circadian fashion in ERA-positive breast epithelial cells but not in breast cancer cells, regardless of their ERA status. Moreover, we reported that ERA mRNA oscillates in a circadian fashion in ERA-positive breast epithelial cells, but not in ERA-positive breast cancer cells. By using ERA-positive HME1 breast epithelial cells, which can be both entrained in vitro and can form mammary gland-like acinar structures in three-dimensional (3D) culture, first we identified a circuit encompassing ERA and an estrogen-regulated loop consisting of two circadian clock genes, PER2 and BMAL1. Further, we demonstrated that this estrogen-regulated circuit is necessary for breast epithelial acinar morphogenesis. Disruption of this circuit due to ERA-knockdown, negatively affects the estrogen-sustained circadian PER2-BMAL1 mechanism as well as the formation of 3D HME1 acini. Conversely, knockdown of either PER2 or BMAL1, by hampering the PER2-BMAL1 loop of the circadian clock, negatively affects ERA circadian oscillations and 3D breast acinar morphogenesis. To our knowledge, this study provides the first evidence of the implication of an ERA-circadian clock mechanism in the breast acinar morphogenetic process.
PMCID: PMC3478319  PMID: 22935699
3D acinar morphogenesis; BMAL1; PER2; breast epithelial cells; circadian clock; estrogen receptor alpha (ERA); estrogen
6.  A Role for Timely Nuclear Translocation of Clock Repressor Proteins in Setting Circadian Clock Speed 
Experimental Neurobiology  2014;23(3):191-199.
By means of a circadian clock system, all the living organisms on earth including human beings can anticipate the environmental rhythmic changes such as light/dark and warm/cold periods in a daily as well as in a yearly manner. Anticipating such environmental changes provide organisms with survival benefits via manifesting behavior and physiology at an advantageous time of the day and year. Cell-autonomous circadian oscillators, governed by transcriptional feedback loop composed of positive and negative elements, are organized into a hierarchical system throughout the organisms and generate an oscillatory expression of a clock gene by itself as well as clock controlled genes (ccgs) with a 24 hr periodicity. In the feedback loop, hetero-dimeric transcription factor complex induces the expression of negative regulatory proteins, which in turn represses the activity of transcription factors to inhibit their own transcription. Thus, for robust oscillatory rhythms of the expression of clock genes as well as ccgs, the precise control of subcellular localization and/or timely translocation of core clock protein are crucial. Here, we discuss how sub-cellular localization and nuclear translocation are controlled in a time-specific manner focusing on the negative regulatory clock proteins.
PMCID: PMC4174609  PMID: 25258565
circadian rhythms; nuclear translocation; phosphorylation; posttranslational modification; O-GlcNAcylation
7.  Influence of the Estrous Cycle on Clock Gene Expression in Reproductive Tissues: Effects of Fluctuating Ovarian Steroid Hormone Levels 
Steroids  2010;75(3):203-212.
Circadian rhythms in physiology and behavior are known to be influenced by the estrous cycle in female rodents. The clock genes responsible for the generation of circadian oscillations are widely expressed both within the central nervous system and peripheral tissues, including those that comprise the reproductive system. To address whether the estrous cycle affects rhythms of clock gene expression in peripheral tissues, we first examined rhythms of clock gene expression (Per1, Per2, Bmal1) in reproductive (uterus, ovary) and non-reproductive (liver) tissues of cycling rats using quantitative real-time PCR (in vivo) and luminescent recording methods to measure circadian rhythms of PER2 expression in tissue explant cultures from cycling PER2::LUCIFERASE (PER2::LUC) knockin mice (ex vivo). We found significant estrous variations of clock gene expression in all three tissues in vivo, and in the uterus ex vivo. We also found that exogenous application of estrogen and progesterone altered rhythms of PER2::LUC expression in the uterus. In addition, we measured the effects of ovarian steroids on clock gene expression in a human breast cancer cell line (MCF-7 cells) as a model for endocrine cells that contain both the steroid hormone receptors and clock genes. We found that progesterone, but not estrogen, acutely up-regulated Per1, Per2, and Bmal1 expression in MCF-7 cells. Together, our findings demonstrate that the timing of the circadian clock in reproductive tissues is influenced by the estrous cycle and suggest that fluctuating steroid hormone levels may be responsible, in part, through direct effects on the timing of clock gene expression.
PMCID: PMC2835461  PMID: 20096720
Estrogen; Progesterone; Uterus; PER2::LUC; MCF-7 cell line; Circadian Rhythm
8.  Astakine 2—the Dark Knight Linking Melatonin to Circadian Regulation in Crustaceans 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(3):e1003361.
Daily, circadian rhythms influence essentially all living organisms and affect many physiological processes from sleep and nutrition to immunity. This ability to respond to environmental daily rhythms has been conserved along evolution, and it is found among species from bacteria to mammals. The hematopoietic process of the crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus is under circadian control and is tightly regulated by astakines, a new family of cytokines sharing a prokineticin (PROK) domain. The expression of AST1 and AST2 are light-dependent, and this suggests an evolutionarily conserved function for PROK domain proteins in mediating circadian rhythms. Vertebrate PROKs are transmitters of circadian rhythms of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the brain of mammals, but the mechanism by which they function is unknown. Here we demonstrate that high AST2 expression is induced by melatonin in the brain. We identify RACK1 as a binding protein of AST2 and further provide evidence that a complex between AST2 and RACK1 functions as a negative-feedback regulator of the circadian clock. By DNA mobility shift assay, we showed that the AST2-RACK1 complex will interfere with the binding between BMAL1 and CLK and inhibit the E-box binding activity of the complex BMAL1-CLK. Finally, we demonstrate by gene knockdown that AST2 is necessary for melatonin-induced inhibition of the complex formation between BMAL1 and CLK during the dark period. In summary, we provide evidence that melatonin regulates AST2 expression and thereby affects the core clock of the crustacean brain. This process may be very important in all animals that have AST2 molecules, i.e. spiders, ticks, crustaceans, scorpions, several insect groups such as Hymenoptera, Hemiptera, and Blattodea, but not Diptera and Coleoptera. Our findings further reveal an ancient evolutionary role for the prokineticin superfamily protein that links melatonin to direct regulation of the core clock gene feedback loops.
Author Summary
Most living organisms are able to sense the time and in particular time of day by their internal clocks. So-called clock proteins control these internal clockworks. BMAL1 and CLK are two important clock proteins, which together form a complex that serves as a transcription factor and controls the production of diurnal proteins. These diurnal proteins, in turn, inhibit the formation of clock proteins so that the concentration of the different proteins in the cell oscillates back and forth throughout the day. External factors may affect the balance of clock proteins, and one such important factor is light. Melatonin is a darkness hormone produced in the brain of most animals during the night, and here we show that melatonin controls the formation of a protein named AST2 in crayfish. AST2 belongs to a group of proteins found in many arthropods, such as spiders, scorpions, crustaceans, and some insects, whose function has been unknown until now. Now we demonstrate that AST2 is induced by melatonin at night and then functions in the internal biological clock by preventing BMAL1 and CLK to form a complex. In this way, AST2 acts as a link between melatonin and the internal biological clock.
PMCID: PMC3605217  PMID: 23555281
9.  Circadian rhythm and its role in malignancy 
Circadian rhythms are daily oscillations of multiple biological processes directed by endogenous clocks. The circadian timing system comprises peripheral oscillators located in most tissues of the body and a central pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. Circadian genes and the proteins produced by these genes constitute the molecular components of the circadian oscillator which form positive/negative feedback loops and generate circadian rhythms. The circadian regulation extends beyond clock genes to involve various clock-controlled genes (CCGs) including various cell cycle genes. Aberrant expression of circadian clock genes could have important consequences on the transactivation of downstream targets that control the cell cycle and on the ability of cells to undergo apoptosis. This may lead to genomic instability and accelerated cellular proliferation potentially promoting carcinogenesis. Different lines of evidence in mice and humans suggest that cancer may be a circadian-related disorder. The genetic or functional disruption of the molecular circadian clock has been found in various cancers including breast, ovarian, endometrial, prostate and hematological cancers. The acquisition of current data in circadian clock mechanism may help chronotherapy, which takes into consideration the biological time to improve treatments by devising new therapeutic approaches for treating circadian-related disorders, especially cancer.
PMCID: PMC2853504  PMID: 20353609
10.  Circadian Timekeeping Is Disturbed in Rheumatoid Arthritis at Molecular Level 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e54049.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have disturbances in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. These are reflected in altered circadian rhythm of circulating serum cortisol, melatonin and IL-6 levels and in chronic fatigue. We hypothesized that the molecular machinery responsible for the circadian timekeeping is perturbed in RA. The aim of this study was to investigate the expression of circadian clock in RA.
Gene expression of thirteen clock genes was analyzed in the synovial membrane of RA and control osteoarthritis (OA) patients. BMAL1 protein was detected using immunohistochemistry. Cell autonomous clock oscillation was started in RA and OA synovial fibroblasts using serum shock. The effect of pro-inflammatory stimulus on clock gene expression in synovial fibroblasts was studied using IL-6 and TNF-α.
Gene expression analysis disclosed disconcerted circadian timekeeping and immunohistochemistry revealed strong cytoplasmic localization of BMAL1 in RA patients. Perturbed circadian timekeeping is at least in part inflammation independent and cell autonomous, because RA synovial fibroblasts display altered circadian expression of several clock components, and perturbed circadian production of IL-6 and IL-1β after clock resetting. However, inflammatory stimulus disturbs the rhythm in cultured fibroblasts. Throughout the experiments ARNTL2 and NPAS2 appeared to be the most affected clock genes in human immune-inflammatory conditions.
We conclude that the molecular machinery controlling the circadian rhythm is disturbed in RA patients.
PMCID: PMC3546002  PMID: 23335987
11.  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.
PMCID: PMC3010105  PMID: 21119632
circadian clock; coupling; entrainment; mathematical modeling; oscillator
12.  CLOCK and NPAS2 have overlapping roles in the circadian oscillation of arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (Aanat) mRNA in chicken cone photoreceptors 
Journal of neurochemistry  2010;113(5):1296-1306.
Circadian clocks in vertebrates are thought to be composed of transcriptional-translational feedback loops involving a highly conversed set of “clock genes”: namely, period (Per1–3) and cryptochrome (Cry1–2), which encode negative transcriptional regulators; and Bmal1, Clock, and Npas2, which encode positive regulators. Aanat, which encodes arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase (AANAT), the key regulatory enzyme that drives the circadian rhythm of melatonin synthesis, contains a circadian E-box element (CACGTG) in its proximal promoter that is potentially capable of binding CLOCK: BMAL1 and NPAS2: BMAL1 heterodimers. The present study was conducted to investigate whether CLOCK and/or NPAS2 regulates Aanat expression in photoreceptor cells. Npas2 and Clock are both expressed in photoreceptor cells in vivo and in vitro. To assess the roles of CLOCK and NPAS2 in Aanat expression, gene specific microRNA (miR) vectors were used to knock down expression of these clock genes in photoreceptor-enriched cell cultures. The knockdown of CLOCK protein significantly reduced the circadian expression of Npas2, Per2, and Aanat transcripts but had no effect on the circadian rhythm of Bmal1 transcript level. The knockdown of NPAS2 significantly damped the circadian rhythm of Aanat mRNAs but had no effect on circadian expression of any of clock genes examined, except Npas2 itself. Chromatin immunoprecipitation studies indicated that both CLOCK and NPAS2 bound to the Aanat promoter in situ. Thus, CLOCK and NPAS2 have overlapping roles in the clock output pathway that regulates the rhythmic expression of Aanat in photoreceptors. However, CLOCK plays the predominant role in the chicken photoreceptor circadian clockwork mechanism, including the regulation of NPAS2 expression.
PMCID: PMC2950611  PMID: 20345751
circadian clock genes; circadian rhythms; retina; melatonin; transcription factors; RNA interference
13.  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.
PMCID: PMC3010117  PMID: 21045818
Arabidopsis thaliana; biological clocks; dynamical systems; gene regulatory networks; mathematical models; photoperiodism
14.  Phase Coupling of a Circadian Neuropeptide With Rest/Activity Rhythms Detected Using a Membrane-Tethered Spider Toxin 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(11):e273.
Drosophila clock neurons are self-sustaining cellular oscillators that rely on negative transcriptional feedback to keep circadian time. Proper regulation of organismal rhythms of physiology and behavior requires coordination of the oscillations of individual clock neurons within the circadian control network. Over the last decade, it has become clear that a key mechanism for intercellular communication in the circadian network is signaling between a subset of clock neurons that secrete the neuropeptide pigment dispersing factor (PDF) and clock neurons that possess its G protein-coupled receptor (PDFR). Furthermore, the specific hypothesis has been proposed that PDF-secreting clock neurons entrain the phase of organismal rhythms, and the cellular oscillations of other clock neurons, via the temporal patterning of secreted PDF signals. In order to test this hypothesis, we have devised a novel technique for altering the phase relationship between circadian transcriptional feedback oscillation and PDF secretion by using an ion channel–directed spider toxin to modify voltage-gated Na+ channel inactivation in vivo. This technique relies on the previously reported “tethered-toxin” technology for cell-autonomous modulation of ionic conductances via heterologous expression of subtype-specific peptide ion channel toxins as chimeric fusion proteins tethered to the plasma membrane with a glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchor. We demonstrate for the first time, to our knowledge, the utility of the tethered-toxin technology in a transgenic animal, validating four different tethered spider toxin ion channel modifiers for use in Drosophila. Focusing on one of these toxins, we show that GPI-tethered Australian funnel-web spider toxin δ-ACTX-Hv1a inhibits Drosophila para voltage-gated Na+ channel inactivation when coexpressed in Xenopus oocytes. Transgenic expression of membrane-tethered δ-ACTX-Hv1a in vivo in the PDF-secreting subset of clock neurons induces rhythmic action potential bursts and depolarized plateau potentials. These in vitro and in vivo electrophysiological effects of membrane-tethered δ-ACTX-Hv1a are consistent with the effects of soluble δ-ACTX-Hv1a purified from venom on Na+ channel physiological and biophysical properties in cockroach neurons. Membrane-tethered δ-ACTX-Hv1a expression in the PDF-secreting subset of clock neurons induces an approximately 4-h phase advance of the rhythm of PDF accumulation in their terminals relative to both the phase of the day:night cycle and the phase of the circadian transcriptional feedback loops. As a consequence, the morning anticipatory peak of locomotor activity preceding dawn, which has been shown to be driven by the clocks of the PDF-secreting subset of clock neurons, phase advances coordinately with the phase of the PDF rhythm of the PDF-secreting clock neurons, rather than maintaining its phase relationship with the day:night cycle and circadian transcriptional feedback loops. These results (1) validate the tethered-toxin technology for cell-autonomous modulation of ion channel biophysical properties in vivo in transgenic Drosophila, (2) demonstrate that the kinetics of para Na+ channel inactivation is a key parameter for determining the phase relationship between circadian transcriptional feedback oscillation and PDF secretion, and (3) provide experimental support for the hypothesis that PDF-secreting clock neurons entrain the phase of organismal rhythms via the temporal patterning of secreted PDF signals.
Author Summary
The regulation of the daily fluctuations that characterize an organism's physiology and behavior requires coordination of the cellular oscillations of individual “clock” neurons within the circadian control network. Clock neurons that secrete a neuropeptide called pigment dispersing factor (PDF) calibrate, or entrain, both the phase of organismal rhythms and the cellular oscillations of other clock neurons. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that phase of PDF secretion rhythms entrains phase of non-PDF neurons and locomotor rhythms using the tethered- toxin technique (which affixes toxins to the cell membrane) to express ion channel–specific peptide toxins in PDF neurons. A particular toxin inhibits inactivation of the Drosophila para sodium (Na+) channel. Inhibition of Na+ channel inactivation in PDF neurons of transgenic flies induces phase advance of PDF rhythm, and correlated phase advance of lights-on anticipatory locomotor activity, suggesting that phase of morning activity is determined by phase of PDF oscillation. Therefore, voltage-gated Na+ channels of Drosophila clock neurons play a key role in determining the phase relationship between circadian transcriptional feedback oscillation and PDF secretion, and PDF-secreting clock neurons entrain the phase of organismal rhythms via the temporal patterning of secreted PDF signals.
Cell-autonomous inhibition ofDrosophila para Na+ channel inactivation using a membrane-tethered spider toxin phase shifts circadian neuropeptide output from cellular oscillation, and the phase of morning anticipatory activity is determined by this phase-shifted neuropeptide output.
PMCID: PMC2577701  PMID: 18986214
15.  Ras-Mediated Deregulation of the Circadian Clock in Cancer 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(5):e1004338.
Circadian rhythms are essential to the temporal regulation of molecular processes in living systems and as such to life itself. Deregulation of these rhythms leads to failures in biological processes and eventually to the manifestation of pathological phenotypes including cancer. To address the questions as to what are the elicitors of a disrupted clock in cancer, we applied a systems biology approach to correlate experimental, bioinformatics and modelling data from several cell line models for colorectal and skin cancer. We found strong and weak circadian oscillators within the same type of cancer and identified a set of genes, which allows the discrimination between the two oscillator-types. Among those genes are IFNGR2, PITX2, RFWD2, PPARγ, LOXL2, Rab6 and SPARC, all involved in cancer-related pathways. Using a bioinformatics approach, we extended the core-clock network and present its interconnection to the discriminative set of genes. Interestingly, such gene signatures link the clock to oncogenic pathways like the RAS/MAPK pathway. To investigate the potential impact of the RAS/MAPK pathway - a major driver of colorectal carcinogenesis - on the circadian clock, we used a computational model which predicted that perturbation of BMAL1-mediated transcription can generate the circadian phenotypes similar to those observed in metastatic cell lines. Using an inducible RAS expression system, we show that overexpression of RAS disrupts the circadian clock and leads to an increase of the circadian period while RAS inhibition causes a shortening of period length, as predicted by our mathematical simulations. Together, our data demonstrate that perturbations induced by a single oncogene are sufficient to deregulate the mammalian circadian clock.
Author Summary
Living systems possess an endogenous time-generating system – the circadian clock - accountable for a 24 hours oscillation in the expression of about 10% of all genes. In mammals, disruption of oscillations is associated to several diseases including cancer. In this manuscript, we address the following question: what are the elicitors of a disrupted clock in cancer? We applied a systems biology approach to correlate experimental, bioinformatics and modelling data and could thereby identify key genes which discriminate strong and weak oscillators among cancer cell lines. Most of the discriminative genes play important roles in cell cycle regulation, DNA repair, immune system and metabolism and are involved in oncogenic pathways such as the RAS/MAPK. To investigate the potential impact of the Ras oncogene in the circadian clock we generated experimental models harbouring conditionally active Ras oncogenes. We put forward a direct correlation between the perturbation of Ras oncogene and an effect in the expression of clock genes, found by means of mathematical simulations and validated experimentally. Our study shows that perturbations of a single oncogene are sufficient to deregulate the mammalian circadian clock and opens new ways in which the circadian clock can influence disease and possibly play a role in therapy.
PMCID: PMC4038477  PMID: 24875049
16.  Disrupting Circadian Homeostasis of Sympathetic Signaling Promotes Tumor Development in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e10995.
Cell proliferation in all rapidly renewing mammalian tissues follows a circadian rhythm that is often disrupted in advanced-stage tumors. Epidemiologic studies have revealed a clear link between disruption of circadian rhythms and cancer development in humans. Mice lacking the circadian genes Period1 and 2 (Per) or Cryptochrome1 and 2 (Cry) are deficient in cell cycle regulation and Per2 mutant mice are cancer-prone. However, it remains unclear how circadian rhythm in cell proliferation is generated in vivo and why disruption of circadian rhythm may lead to tumorigenesis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Mice lacking Per1 and 2, Cry1 and 2, or one copy of Bmal1, all show increased spontaneous and radiation-induced tumor development. The neoplastic growth of Per-mutant somatic cells is not controlled cell-autonomously but is dependent upon extracellular mitogenic signals. Among the circadian output pathways, the rhythmic sympathetic signaling plays a key role in the central-peripheral timing mechanism that simultaneously activates the cell cycle clock via AP1-controlled Myc induction and p53 via peripheral clock-controlled ATM activation. Jet-lag promptly desynchronizes the central clock-SNS-peripheral clock axis, abolishes the peripheral clock-dependent ATM activation, and activates myc oncogenic potential, leading to tumor development in the same organ systems in wild-type and circadian gene-mutant mice.
Tumor suppression in vivo is a clock-controlled physiological function. The central circadian clock paces extracellular mitogenic signals that drive peripheral clock-controlled expression of key cell cycle and tumor suppressor genes to generate a circadian rhythm in cell proliferation. Frequent disruption of circadian rhythm is an important tumor promoting factor.
PMCID: PMC2881876  PMID: 20539819
17.  Machine Learning Helps Identify CHRONO as a Circadian Clock Component 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(4):e1001840.
Two independent studies, one of them using a computational approach, identified CHRONO, a gene shown to modulate the activity of circadian transcription factors and alter circadian behavior in mice.
Over the last decades, researchers have characterized a set of “clock genes” that drive daily rhythms in physiology and behavior. This arduous work has yielded results with far-reaching consequences in metabolic, psychiatric, and neoplastic disorders. Recent attempts to expand our understanding of circadian regulation have moved beyond the mutagenesis screens that identified the first clock components, employing higher throughput genomic and proteomic techniques. In order to further accelerate clock gene discovery, we utilized a computer-assisted approach to identify and prioritize candidate clock components. We used a simple form of probabilistic machine learning to integrate biologically relevant, genome-scale data and ranked genes on their similarity to known clock components. We then used a secondary experimental screen to characterize the top candidates. We found that several physically interact with known clock components in a mammalian two-hybrid screen and modulate in vitro cellular rhythms in an immortalized mouse fibroblast line (NIH 3T3). One candidate, Gene Model 129, interacts with BMAL1 and functionally represses the key driver of molecular rhythms, the BMAL1/CLOCK transcriptional complex. Given these results, we have renamed the gene CHRONO (computationally highlighted repressor of the network oscillator). Bi-molecular fluorescence complementation and co-immunoprecipitation demonstrate that CHRONO represses by abrogating the binding of BMAL1 to its transcriptional co-activator CBP. Most importantly, CHRONO knockout mice display a prolonged free-running circadian period similar to, or more drastic than, six other clock components. We conclude that CHRONO is a functional clock component providing a new layer of control on circadian molecular dynamics.
Author Summary
Daily rhythms are ever-present in the living world, driving the sleep–wake cycle and many other physiological changes. In the last two decades, several labs have identified “clock genes” that interact to generate underlying molecular oscillations. However, many aspects of circadian molecular physiology remain unexplained. Here, we used a simple “machine learning” approach to identify new clock genes by searching the genome for candidate genes that share clock-like features such as cycling, broad-based tissue RNA expression, in vitro circadian activity, genetic interactions, and homology across species. Genes were ranked by their similarity to known clock components and the candidates were screened and validated for evidence of clock function in vitro. One candidate, which we renamed CHRONO (Gm129), interacted with the master regulator of the clock, BMAL1, disrupting its transcriptional activity. We found that Chrono knockout mice had prolonged locomotor activity rhythms, getting up progressively later each day. Our experiments demonstrated that CHRONO interferes with the ability of BMAL1 to recruit CBP, a bona fide histone acetylase and key transcriptional coactivator of the circadian clock.
PMCID: PMC3988006  PMID: 24737000
18.  A Long Noncoding RNA Perturbs the Circadian Rhythm of Hepatoma Cells to Facilitate Hepatocarcinogenesis12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2015;17(1):79-88.
Clock circadian regulator (CLOCK)/brain and muscle arnt-like protein-1 (BMAL1) complex governs the regulation of circadian rhythm through triggering periodic alterations of gene expression. However, the underlying mechanism of circadian clock disruption in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains unclear. Here, we report that a long noncoding RNA (lncRNA), highly upregulated in liver cancer (HULC), contributes to the perturbations in circadian rhythm of hepatoma cells. Our observations showed that HULC was able to heighten the expression levels of CLOCK and its downstream circadian oscillators, such as period circadian clock 1 and cryptochrome circadian clock 1, in hepatoma cells. Strikingly, HULC altered the expression pattern and prolonged the periodic expression of CLOCK in hepatoma cells. Mechanistically, the complementary base pairing between HULC and the 5' untranslated region of CLOCK mRNA underlay the HULC-modulated expression of CLOCK, and the mutants in the complementary region failed to achieve the event. Moreover, immunohistochemistry staining and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction validated that the levels of CLOCK were elevated in HCC tissues, and the expression levels of HULC were positively associated with those of CLOCK in clinical HCC samples. In functional experiments, our data exhibited that CLOCK was implicated in the HULC-accelerated proliferation of hepatoma cells in vitro and in vivo. Taken together, our data show that an lncRNA, HULC, is responsible for the perturbations in circadian rhythm through upregulating circadian oscillator CLOCK in hepatoma cells, resulting in the promotion of hepatocarcinogenesis. Thus, our finding provides new insights into the mechanism by which lncRNA accelerates hepatocarcinogenesis through disturbing circadian rhythm of HCC.
PMCID: PMC4309731  PMID: 25622901
19.  Cell Type-Specific Functions of Period Genes Revealed by Novel Adipocyte and Hepatocyte Circadian Clock Models 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(4):e1004244.
In animals, circadian rhythms in physiology and behavior result from coherent rhythmic interactions between clocks in the brain and those throughout the body. Despite the many tissue specific clocks, most understanding of the molecular core clock mechanism comes from studies of the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus and a few other cell types. Here we report establishment and genetic characterization of three cell-autonomous mouse clock models: 3T3 fibroblasts, 3T3-L1 adipocytes, and MMH-D3 hepatocytes. Each model is genetically tractable and has an integrated luciferase reporter that allows for longitudinal luminescence recording of rhythmic clock gene expression using an inexpensive off-the-shelf microplate reader. To test these cellular models, we generated a library of short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) against a panel of known clock genes and evaluated their impact on circadian rhythms. Knockdown of Bmal1, Clock, Cry1, and Cry2 each resulted in similar phenotypes in all three models, consistent with previous studies. However, we observed cell type-specific knockdown phenotypes for the Period and Rev-Erb families of clock genes. In particular, Per1 and Per2, which have strong behavioral effects in knockout mice, appear to play different roles in regulating period length and amplitude in these peripheral systems. Per3, which has relatively modest behavioral effects in knockout mice, substantially affects period length in the three cellular models and in dissociated SCN neurons. In summary, this study establishes new cell-autonomous clock models that are of particular relevance to metabolism and suitable for screening for clock modifiers, and reveals previously under-appreciated cell type-specific functions of clock genes.
Author Summary
Various aspects of our daily rhythms in physiology and behavior such as the sleep-wake cycle are regulated by endogenous circadian clocks that are present in nearly every cell. It is generally accepted that these oscillators share a similar biochemical negative feedback mechanism, consisting of transcriptional activators and repressors. In this study, we developed cell-autonomous, metabolically relevant clock models in mouse hepatocytes and adipocytes. Each clock model has an integrated luciferase reporter that allows for kinetic luminescence recording with an inexpensive microplate reader and thus is feasible for most laboratories. These models are amenable to high throughput screening of small molecules or genomic entities for impacts on cell-autonomous clocks relevant to metabolism. We validated these new models by RNA interference via lentivirus-mediated knockdown of known clock genes. As expected, we found that many core clock components have similar functions across cell types. To our surprise, however, we also uncovered previously under-appreciated cell type-specific functions of core clock genes, particularly Per1, Per2, and Per3. Because the circadian system is integrated with, and influenced by, the local physiology that is under its control, our studies provide important implications for future studies into cell type-specific mechanisms of various circadian systems.
PMCID: PMC3974647  PMID: 24699442
20.  REV-ERBα Participates in Circadian SREBP Signaling and Bile Acid Homeostasis 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(9):e1000181.
The nuclear receptor REV-ERBα shapes the daily activity profile of Sterol Response Element Binding Protein (SREBP) and thereby participates in the circadian control of cholesterol and bile acid synthesis in the liver.
In mammals, many aspects of behavior and physiology, and in particular cellular metabolism, are coordinated by the circadian timing system. Molecular clocks are thought to rely on negative feedback loops in clock gene expression that engender oscillations in the accumulation of transcriptional regulatory proteins, such as the orphan receptor REV-ERBα. Circadian transcription factors then drive daily rhythms in the expression of clock-controlled output genes, for example genes encoding enzymes and regulators of cellular metabolism. To gain insight into clock output functions of REV-ERBα, we carried out genome-wide transcriptome profiling experiments with liver RNA from wild-type mice, Rev-erbα knock-out mice, or REV-ERBα overexpressing mice. On the basis of these genetic loss- and gain-of-function experiments, we concluded that REV-ERBα participates in the circadian modulation of sterol regulatory element-binding protein (SREBP) activity, and thereby in the daily expression of SREBP target genes involved in cholesterol and lipid metabolism. This control is exerted via the cyclic transcription of Insig2, encoding a trans-membrane protein that sequesters SREBP proteins to the endoplasmic reticulum membranes and thereby interferes with the proteolytic activation of SREBPs in Golgi membranes. REV-ERBα also participates in the cyclic expression of cholesterol-7α-hydroxylase (CYP7A1), the rate-limiting enzyme in converting cholesterol to bile acids. Our findings suggest that this control acts via the stimulation of LXR nuclear receptors by cyclically produced oxysterols. In conclusion, our study suggests that rhythmic cholesterol and bile acid metabolism is not just driven by alternating feeding–fasting cycles, but also by REV-ERBα, a component of the circadian clockwork circuitry.
Author Summary
The mammalian circadian timing system has a hierarchical architecture: a central pacemaker in the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizes subsidiary oscillators present in most peripheral cell types. In both SCN neurons and peripheral cells, circadian oscillators are thought to rely on two negative feedback loops. A major feedback loop involves the two cryptochromes CRY1 and CRY2 and the two period proteins PER1 and PER2, which serve as transcriptional repressors for their own genes. An accessory feedback loop couples the expression and activity of the transcriptional activators CLOCK and BMAL1 to the expression of cryptochrome and period proteins. The orphan nuclear receptor REV-ERBα is a key player in this accessory feedback loop, in that it periodically represses Bmal1 transcription. In liver, molecular clocks mediate the temporal gating of metabolic processes. Here we demonstrate that hepatocyte clocks participate in the control of cholesterol and bile acid homeostasis. According to this scenario, REV-ERBα shapes the circadian expression pattern of insulin-induced gene 2 (INSIG2), a resident protein of the endoplasmic reticulum that interferes with the proteolytic activation of sterol response element binding proteins (SREBPs). In turn SREBPs govern the rhythmic expression of enzymes with key functions in sterol and fatty acid synthesis. The circadian production of sterols (in particular oxysterols) may engender the cyclic activation of LXR nuclear receptors, which serve as critical activators of Cyp7a1 transcription. CYP7A1, also known as cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase, catalyzes the rate-limiting step in bile acid synthesis.
PMCID: PMC2726950  PMID: 19721697
21.  Developmental and light-entrained expression of melatonin and its relationship to the circadian clock in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis 
EvoDevo  2014;5:26.
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.
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.
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.
PMCID: PMC4169136  PMID: 25243057
Circadian clock; Embryogenesis; In situ hybridization; Melatonin
22.  Effect of H2S on the circadian rhythm of mouse hepatocytes 
Dysregulation of circadian rhythms can contribute to diseases of lipid metabolism. NAD-dependent deacetylase sirtuin-1(SIRT1) is an important hub which links lipid metabolism with circadian clock by its deacetylation activity depends on intracellular NAD+/NADH content ratio. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is an endogenous reductant which can affect the intracellular redox state. Therefore, we hypothesized that exogenous H2S can affect the expression of circadian clock genes mediated by sirt1 thereby affecting body's lipid metabolism. And also because the liver is a typical peripheral circadian clock oscillator that is intimately linked to lipid metabolism. Thus the effect of H2S were observed on 24-hour dynamic expression of 4 central circadian clock genes and sirt1gene in primary cultured hepatocytes.
We established a hepatocyte model that showed a circadian rhythm by serum shock method. And detected that the expression level and the peak of circadian clock genes decreased gradually and H2S could maintain the expression and amplitude of circadian clock genes such as Clock, Per2, Bmal1 and Rev-erbαwithin a certain period time. Accordingly the expression level of sirt1 in H2S group was significantly higher than that in the control group.
Exogenous reductant H2S maintain the circadian rhythm of clock gene in isolated liver cells. We speculated that H2S has changed NAD+/NADH content ratio in hepatocytes and enhanced the activity of SIRT1 protein directly or indirectly, so as to maintain the rhythm of expression of circadian clock genes, they play a role in the prevention and treatment of lipid metabolism-related disease caused by the biological clock disorders.
PMCID: PMC3292508  PMID: 22316301
Hydrogen sulfide; sirt1; circadian clock genes; metabolism-related genes; lipid
23.  Circadian Clock Genes as Modulators of Sensitivity to Genotoxic Stress 
Cell cycle (Georgetown, Tex.)  2005;4(7):901-907.
A broad variety of organisms display circadian rhythms (i.e., oscillations with 24-hr periodicities) in many aspects of their behavior, physiology and metabolism. These rhythms are under genetic control and are generated endogenously at the cellular level. In mammals, the core molecular mechanism of the oscillator consists of two transcriptional activators, CLOCK and BMAL1, and their transcriptional targets, CRYPTOCHROMES (CRYS) and PERIODS (PERS). The CRY and PER proteins function as negative regulators of CLOCK/BMAL1 activity, thus forming the major circadian autoregulatory feedback loop. It is believed that the circadian clock system regulates daily variations in output physiology and metabolism through periodic activation/repression of the set of clock-controlled genes that are involved in various metabolic pathways. Importantly, circadian-controlled pathways include those that determine in vivo responses to genotoxic stress. By using circadian mutant mice deficient in different components of the molecular clock system, we have established genetic models that correlate with the two opposite extremes of circadian cycle as reflected by the activity of the CLOCK/BMAL1 transactivation complex. Comparison of the in vivo responses of these mutants to the chemotherapeutic drug, cyclophosphamide (CY), has established a direct correlation between drug toxicity and the functional status of the CLOCK/BMAL1 transcriptional complex. We have also demonstrated that CLOCK/BMAL1 modulates sensitivity to drug-induced toxicity by controlling B cell responses to active CY metabolites. These results suggest that the sensitivity of cells to genotoxic stress induced by anticancer therapy may be modulated by CLOCK/BMAL1 transcriptional activity. Further elucidation of the molecular mechanisms of circadian control as well as identification of specific pharmacological modulators of CLOCK/BMAL1 activity are likely to lead to the development of new anti-cancer treatment schedules with increased therapeutic index and reduced morbidity.
PMCID: PMC3774065  PMID: 15917646
Circadian; CLOCK; BMAL1; transcription; anticancer therapy
24.  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.
PMCID: PMC2964123  PMID: 20865009
Arabidopsis thaliana; biological clocks; circadian rhythms; mathematical model; systems biology
25.  Redundant Function of REV-ERBα and β and Non-Essential Role for Bmal1 Cycling in Transcriptional Regulation of Intracellular Circadian Rhythms 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(2):e1000023.
The mammalian circadian clockwork is composed of a core PER/CRY feedback loop and additional interlocking loops. In particular, the ROR/REV/Bmal1 loop, consisting of ROR activators and REV-ERB repressors that regulate Bmal1 expression, is thought to “stabilize” core clock function. However, due to functional redundancy and pleiotropic effects of gene deletions, the role of the ROR/REV/Bmal1 loop has not been accurately defined. In this study, we examined cell-autonomous circadian oscillations using combined gene knockout and RNA interference and demonstrated that REV-ERBα and β are functionally redundant and are required for rhythmic Bmal1 expression. In contrast, the RORs contribute to Bmal1 amplitude but are dispensable for Bmal1 rhythm. We provide direct in vivo genetic evidence that the REV-ERBs also participate in combinatorial regulation of Cry1 and Rorc expression, leading to their phase-delay relative to Rev-erbα. Thus, the REV-ERBs play a more prominent role than the RORs in the basic clock mechanism. The cellular genetic approach permitted testing of the robustness of the intracellular core clock function. We showed that cells deficient in both REV-ERBα and β function, or those expressing constitutive BMAL1, were still able to generate and maintain normal Per2 rhythmicity. Our findings thus underscore the resilience of the intracellular clock mechanism and provide important insights into the transcriptional topologies underlying the circadian clock. Since REV-ERB function and Bmal1 mRNA/protein cycling are not necessary for basic clock function, we propose that the major role of the ROR/REV/Bmal1 loop and its constituents is to control rhythmic transcription of clock output genes.
Author Summary
Circadian clocks in plants, fungi, insects, and mammals all share a common transcriptional network architecture. At the cellular level, the mammalian clockwork consists of a core Per/Cry negative feedback loop and additional interlocking loops. We wished to address experimentally the contribution of the interlocking Bmal1 loop to clock function in mammals. Because behavioral rhythms do not always reflect cell-autonomous phenotypes and are subject to pleiotropic effects, we employed cell-based genetic approaches and monitored rhythms longitudinally using bioluminescent reporters of clock gene expression. We showed that REV-ERB repressors play a more prominent role than ROR activators in regulating the Bmal1 rhythm. However, significant rhythmicity remains even with constitutive expression of Bmal1, pointing to the resilience of the core loop to perturbations of the Bmal1 loop. We conclude that while the interlocking loop contributes to fine-tuning of the core loop, its primary function is to provide discrete waveforms of clock gene expression for control of local physiology. This study has important general implications not only for circadian biology across species, but also for the emerging field of systems biology that seeks to understand complex interactions in genetic networks.
PMCID: PMC2265523  PMID: 18454201

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