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1.  Expression and Rhythmic Modulation of Circulating MicroRNAs Targeting the Clock Gene Bmal1 in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(7):e22586.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) interact with 3′ untranslated region (UTR) elements of target genes to regulate mRNA stability or translation and thus play a role in regulating many different biological processes, including circadian rhythms. However, specific miRNAs mediating the regulation of essential clock genes remain largely unknown. Because vesicles containing membrane-bound miRNAs are present in the circulatory system, we examined miRNAs predicted to target the clock gene, Bmal1, for evidence of rhythmic fluctuations in circulating levels and modulatory effects on the 3′ UTR activity of Bmal1. A number of miRNAs with Bmal1 as a predicted target were expressed in the serum of mice exposed to LD 12∶12 and of these miRNAs, miR-152 and miR-494 but not miR-142-3p were marked by diurnal oscillations with bimodal peaks in expression occurring near the middle of the day and 8 or 12 hr later during the night. Co-transfection of pre-miR over-expression constructs for miR-494 and miR-142-3p in HEK293 cells had significant effects in repressing luciferase-reported Bmal1 3′ UTR activity by as much as 60%, suggesting that these miRNAs may function as post-transcriptional modulators of Bmal1. In conjunction with previous studies implicating miRNAs as extracellular regulatory signals, our results suggest that circulating miRNAs may play a role in the regulation of the molecular clockworks in peripheral circadian oscillators.
PMCID: PMC3142187  PMID: 21799909
2.  Role of miR-142-3p in the Post-Transcriptional Regulation of the Clock Gene Bmal1 in the Mouse SCN 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65300.
MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs that function as post-transcriptional modulators by regulating stability or translation of target mRNAs. Recent studies have implicated miRNAs in the regulation of mammalian circadian rhythms. To explore the role of miRNAs in the post-transcriptional modulation of core clock genes in the master circadian pacemaker, we examined miR-142-3p for evidence of circadian expression in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN), regulation of its putative clock gene target Bmal1 via specific binding sites in the 3′ UTR and overexpression-induced changes in the circadian rhythm of BMAL1 protein levels in SCN cells. In mice exposed to constant darkness (DD), miR-142-3p levels in the SCN were characterized by circadian rhythmicity with peak expression during early subjective day at CT 3. Mutagenesis studies indicate that two independent miRNA recognition elements located at nucleotides 1–7 and 335–357 contribute equally to miR-142-3p-induced repression of luciferase-reported Bmal1 3′ UTR activity. Importantly, overexpression of miR-142-3p in immortalized SCN cells abolished circadian variation in endogenous BMAL1 protein levels in vitro. Collectively, our results suggest that miR-142-3p may play a role in the post-transcriptional modulation of Bmal1 and its oscillatory regulation in molecular feedback loops mediating SCN circadian function.
PMCID: PMC3673942  PMID: 23755214
3.  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.
PMCID: PMC3043000  PMID: 21364973
4.  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
5.  New role of zCRY and zPER2 as regulators of sub-cellular distributions of zCLOCK and zBMAL proteins 
Nucleic Acids Research  2003;31(3):935-943.
The core oscillator that generates circadian rhythm in eukaryotes consists of transcription/translation-based autoregulatory feedback loops by which clock gene products negatively regulate their own expression. Control of the accumulation and nuclear entry of the negative regulators PER and CRY is believed to be a key step in these loops. We clarified the mutual interaction between zebrafish clock-related proteins and their sub-cellular localizations in NIH3T3 cells. Six CRYs exist in zebrafish, of which zCRY1a strongly represses zCLOCK1: zBMAL3-mediated transcription, but zCRY3 does not. We show that zCRY1a interacts with zCLOCK1 and zBMAL3, facilitating nuclear accumulation, whereas zCRY3 associates with neither one and does not influence their sub-cellular distributions. We cloned zPer2 cDNA and showed that the protein product encoded by the cDNA acts as a moderate transcriptional repressor. In our sub-cellular localization studies we also found that zPER2 interacts with the zCLOCK1:zBMAL3 heterodimer, causing its cytoplasmic retention. zCRY1a and zPER2 apparently have opposite effects on the sub-cellular distribution of zCLOCK:zBMAL heterodimer. We speculate that the opposite regulation of the sub-cellular distribution of this is associated with the different transcriptional repression abilities of zCRY1a and zPER2. zCRY1a acts as a potent transcriptional inhibitor by interacting directly with the zCLOCK:zBMAL heterodimer in the nucleus, whereas zPER2 maintains the zCLOCK:zBMAL heterodimer in the cytoplasm, resulting in transactivation repression.
PMCID: PMC149195  PMID: 12560489
6.  Intermolecular recognition revealed by the complex structure of human CLOCK-BMAL1 basic helix-loop-helix domains with E-box DNA 
Cell Research  2012;23(2):213-224.
CLOCK (circadian locomotor output cycles kaput) and BMAL1 (brain and muscle ARNT-like 1) are both transcription factors of the circadian core loop in mammals. Recently published mouse CLOCK-BMAL1 bHLH (basic helix-loop-helix)-PAS (period-ARNT-single-minded) complex structure sheds light on the mechanism for heterodimer formation, but the structural details of the protein-DNA recognition mechanisms remain elusive. Here we have elucidated the crystal structure of human CLOCK-BMAL1 bHLH domains bound to a canonical E-box DNA. We demonstrate that CLOCK and BMAL1 bHLH domains can be mutually selected, and that hydrogen-bonding networks mediate their E-box recognition. We identified a hydrophobic contact between BMAL1 Ile80 and a flanking thymine nucleotide, suggesting that CLOCK-BMAL1 actually reads 7-bp DNA and not the previously believed 6-bp DNA. To find potential non-canonical E-boxes that could be recognized by CLOCK-BMAL1, we constructed systematic single-nucleotide mutations on the E-box and measured their relevant affinities. We defined two non-canonical E-box patterns with high affinities, AACGTGA and CATGTGA, in which the flanking A7-T7′ base pair is indispensable for recognition. These results will help us to identify functional CLOCK-BMAL1-binding sites in vivo and to search for clock-controlled genes. Furthermore, we assessed the inhibitory role of potential phosphorylation sites in bHLH regions. We found that the phospho-mimicking mutation on BMAL1 Ser78 could efficiently block DNA binding as well as abolish normal circadian oscillation in cells. We propose that BMAL1 Ser78 should be a key residue mediating input signal-regulated transcriptional inhibition for external cues to entrain the circadian clock by kinase cascade.
PMCID: PMC3567813  PMID: 23229515
crystal structure; circadian; CLOCK; BMAL1; non-canonical E-box; phosphorylation
7.  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.
PMCID: PMC3121748  PMID: 21731503
8.  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
9.  Effect of Resveratrol, a SIRT1 Activator, on the Interactions of the CLOCK/BMAL1 Complex 
Endocrinology and Metabolism  2014;29(3):379-387.
In mammals, the CLOCK/BMAL1 heterodimer is a key transcription factor complex that drives the cyclic expression of clock-controlled genes involved in various physiological functions and behavioral consequences. Recently, a growing number of studies have reported a molecular link between the circadian clock and metabolism. In the present study, we explored the regulatory effects of SIRTUIN1 (SIRT1), an NAD+-dependent deacetylase, on CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated clock gene expression.
To investigate the interaction between SIRT1 and CLOCK/BMAL1, we conducted bimolecular fluorescence complementation (BiFC) analyses supplemented with immunocytochemistry assays. BiFC experiments employing deletion-specific mutants of BMAL1 were used to elucidate the specific domains that are necessary for the SIRT1-BMAL1 interaction. Additionally, luciferase reporter assays were used to delineate the effects of SIRT1 on circadian gene expression.
BiFC analysis revealed that SIRT1 interacted with both CLOCK and BMAL1 in most cell nuclei. As revealed by BiFC assays using various BMAL1 deletion mutants, the PAS-B domain of BMAL1 was essential for interaction with SIRT1. Activation of SIRT1 with resveratrol did not exert any significant change on the interaction with the CLOCK/BMAL1 complex. However, promoter analysis using Per1-Luc and Ebox-Luc reporters showed that SIRT1 significantly downregulated both promoter activities. This inhibitory effect was intensified by treatment with resveratrol, indicating a role for SIRT1 and its activator in CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription of clock genes.
These results suggest that SIRT1 may form a regulatory complex with CLOCK/BMAL1 that represses clock gene expression, probably via deacetylase activity.
PMCID: PMC4192820  PMID: 25309798
Circadian clocks; CLOCK/BMAL1 heterodimer; SIRT1; BiFC analysis; Resveratrol
10.  CBP/p300 is a cell type-specific modulator of CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription 
Molecular Brain  2009;2:34.
Previous studies have demonstrated tissue-specific regulation of the rhythm of circadian transcription, suggesting that transcription factor complex CLOCK/BMAL1, essential for maintaining circadian rhythm, regulates transcription in a tissue-specific manner. To further elucidate the mechanism of the cell type-specific regulation of transcription by CLOCK/BMAL1 at the molecular level, we investigated roles of CBP/p300 and tissue-specific cofactors in CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription.
As shown previously, CBP/p300 stimulates CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription in COS-1 cells. However, CBP/p300 repressed CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription in NIH3T3 cells and knockdown of CBP or p300 expression by siRNA enhanced this transcription. Studies using GAL4-fusion proteins suggested that CBP represses CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription by targeting CLOCK. We further investigated mechanisms of this cell type-specific modulation of CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription by CBP by examining roles of co-repressor HDAC3 and co-activator pCAF, which are highly expressed in NIH3T3 and COS cells, respectively. CBP repressed CLOCK/BMAL1-mediated transcription in COS-1 cells when HDAC3 was overexpressed, but activated it in NIH3T3 cells when pCAF was overexpressed. CBP forms a complex with CLOCK by interacting with HDAC3 or pCAF; however, direct interaction of CBP with CLOCK was not observed.
Our findings indicate possible mechanisms by which CBP/p300 tissue-specifically acts cooperatively with pCAF and HDAC3 either as a co-activator or co-repressor, respectively, for CLOCK/BMAL1.
PMCID: PMC2785803  PMID: 19922678
11.  Sleep Loss Reduces the DNA-Binding of BMAL1, CLOCK, and NPAS2 to Specific Clock Genes in the Mouse Cerebral Cortex 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e26622.
We have previously demonstrated that clock genes contribute to the homeostatic aspect of sleep regulation. Indeed, mutations in some clock genes modify the markers of sleep homeostasis and an increase in homeostatic sleep drive alters clock gene expression in the forebrain. Here, we investigate a possible mechanism by which sleep deprivation (SD) could alter clock gene expression by quantifying DNA-binding of the core-clock transcription factors CLOCK, NPAS2, and BMAL1 to the cis-regulatory sequences of target clock genes in mice. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP), we first showed that, as reported for the liver, DNA-binding of CLOCK and BMAL1 to target clock genes changes in function of time-of-day in the cerebral cortex. Tissue extracts were collected at ZT0 (light onset), −6, −12, and −18, and DNA enrichment of E-box or E'-box containing sequences was measured by qPCR. CLOCK and BMAL1 binding to Cry1, Dbp, Per1, and Per2 depended on time-of-day, with maximum values reached at around ZT6. We then observed that SD, performed between ZT0 and −6, significantly decreased DNA-binding of CLOCK and BMAL1 to Dbp, consistent with the observed decrease in Dbp mRNA levels after SD. The DNA-binding of NPAS2 and BMAL1 to Per2 was also decreased by SD, although SD is known to increase Per2 expression in the cortex. DNA-binding to Per1 and Cry1 was not affected by SD. Our results show that the sleep-wake history can affect the clock molecular machinery directly at the level of chromatin binding thereby altering the cortical expression of Dbp and Per2 and likely other targets. Although the precise dynamics of the relationship between DNA-binding and mRNA expression, especially for Per2, remains elusive, the results also suggest that part of the reported circadian changes in DNA-binding of core clock components in tissues peripheral to the suprachiasmatic nuclei could, in fact, be sleep-wake driven.
PMCID: PMC3200344  PMID: 22039518
12.  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
13.  Comprehensive analysis of microRNA-mRNA co-expression in circadian rhythm 
Experimental & Molecular Medicine  2009;41(9):638-647.
To investigate the potential role of microRNA (miRNA) in the regulation of circadian rhythm, we performed microarray-based expression profiling study of both miRNA and mRNA in mouse liver for 48 h at 4-hour intervals. Circadian miRNA-mRNA target pair is defined as the pair both elements of which show circadian expression patterns and the sequence-based target relationship of which can be predicted. Circadian initiators, Clock and Bmal1, showed inversely correlated circadian expression patterns against their corresponding miRNAs, miR-181d and miR-191, targeting them. In contrast, circadian suppressors, Per, Cry, CKIe and Rev-erba, exhibited positively correlated circadian expression patterns to their corresponding miRNAs. Genomic location analysis revealed that intronic region showed higher abundance of cyclic than non-cyclic miRNAs targeting circadian genes while other (i.e., 3'-UTR, exon and intergenic) regions showed no difference. It is suggested that miRNAs are involved in the regulation of peripheral circadian rhythm in mouse liver by modulating Clock:Bmal1 complex. Identifying specific miRNAs and their targets that are critically involved in circadian rhythm will provide a better understanding of the regulation of circadian-clock system.
PMCID: PMC2753657  PMID: 19478556
circadian rhythm; gene expression profiling; gene expression regulation; liver; mice; micro-RNA
14.  Regulation of Retinal Inflammation by Rhythmic Expression of MiR-146a in Diabetic Retina 
Chronic inflammation and dysregulation of circadian rhythmicity are involved in the pathogenesis of diabetic retinopathy. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) can regulate inflammation and circadian clock machinery. We tested the hypothesis that altered daily rhythm of miR-146a expression in diabetes contributes to retinal inflammation.
Nondiabetic and STZ-induced diabetic rats kept in 12/12 light/dark cycle were killed every 2 hours over a 72-hour period. Human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs) were synchronized with dexamethasone. Expression of miR-146a, IL-1 receptor-associated kinase 1 (IRAK1), IL-1β, VEGF and ICAM-1, as well as clock genes was examined by real-time PCR and Western blot. To modulate expression levels of miR-146a, mimics and inhibitors were used.
Diabetes inhibited amplitude of negative arm (per1) and enhanced amplitude of the positive arm (bmal1) of clock machinery in retina. In addition to clock genes, miR-146a and its target gene IRAK1 also exhibited daily oscillations in antiphase; however, these patterns were lost in diabetic retina. This loss of rhythmic pattern was associated with an increase in ICAM-1, IL-β, and VEGF expression. Human retinal endothelial cells had robust miR-146a expression that followed circadian oscillation pattern; however, HRECs isolated from diabetic donors had reduced miR-146a amplitude but increased amplitude of IRAK1 and ICAM-1. In HRECs, miR-146a mimic or inhibitor caused 1.6- and 1.7-fold decrease or 1.5- and 1.6-fold increase, respectively, in mRNA and protein expression levels of ICAM-1 after 48 hours.
Diabetes-induced dysregulation of daily rhythms of miR-146a and inflammatory pathways under miR-146a control have potential implications for the development of diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetes-induced dysregulation of daily rhythms of miR-146a and inflammatory pathways under miR-146a control have potential implications for the development of diabetic retinopathy.
PMCID: PMC4073658  PMID: 24867582
diabetic retinopathy; miRNA; circadian rhythm; intercellular adhesion molecule 1; inflammatory response; endothelial cells
15.  Modeling an Evolutionary Conserved Circadian Cis-Element 
PLoS Computational Biology  2008;4(2):e38.
Circadian oscillator networks rely on a transcriptional activator called CLOCK/CYCLE (CLK/CYC) in insects and CLOCK/BMAL1 or NPAS2/BMAL1 in mammals. Identifying the targets of this heterodimeric basic-helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor poses challenges and it has been difficult to decipher its specific sequence affinity beyond a canonical E-box motif, except perhaps for some flanking bases contributing weakly to the binding energy. Thus, no good computational model presently exists for predicting CLK/CYC, CLOCK/BMAL1, or NPAS2/BMAL1 targets. Here, we use a comparative genomics approach and first study the conservation properties of the best-known circadian enhancer: a 69-bp element upstream of the Drosophila melanogaster period gene. This fragment shows a signal involving the presence of two closely spaced E-box–like motifs, a configuration that we can also detect in the other four prominent CLK/CYC target genes in flies: timeless, vrille, Pdp1, and cwo. This allows for the training of a probabilistic sequence model that we test using functional genomics datasets. We find that the predicted sequences are overrepresented in promoters of genes induced in a recent study by a glucocorticoid receptor-CLK fusion protein. We then scanned the mouse genome with the fly model and found that many known CLOCK/BMAL1 targets harbor sequences matching our consensus. Moreover, the phase of predicted cyclers in liver agreed with known CLOCK/BMAL1 regulation. Taken together, we built a predictive model for CLK/CYC or CLOCK/BMAL1-bound cis-enhancers through the integration of comparative and functional genomics data. Finally, a deeper phylogenetic analysis reveals that the link between the CLOCK/BMAL1 complex and the circadian cis-element dates back to before insects and vertebrates diverged.
Author Summary
Life on earth is subject to daily light/dark and temperature cycles that reflect the earth rotation about its own axis. Under such conditions, organisms ranging from bacteria to human have evolved molecularly geared circadian clocks that resonate with the environmental cycles. These clocks serve as internal timing devices to coordinate physiological and behavioral processes as diverse as detoxification, activity and rest cycles, or blood pressure. In insects and vertebrates, the clock circuitry uses interlocked negative feedback loops which are implemented by transcription factors, among which the heterodimeric activators CLOCK and CYCLE play a key role. The specific DNA elements recognized by this factor are known to involve E-box motifs, but the low information content of this sequence makes it a poor predictor of the targets of CLOCK/CYCLE on a genome-wide scale. Here, we use comparative genomics to build a more specific model for a CLOCK-controlled cis-element that extends the canonical E-boxes to a more complex dimeric element. We use functional data from Drosophila and mouse circadian experiments to test the validity and assess the performance of the model. Finally, we provide a phylogenetic analysis of the cis-elements across insect and vertebrates that emphasizes the ancient link between CLOCK/CYCLE and the modeled enhancer. These results indicate that comparative genomics provides powerful means to decipher the complexity of the circadian cis-regulatory code.
PMCID: PMC2242825  PMID: 18282089
16.  Circadian Regulation of Myocardial Sarcomeric Titin-cap (Tcap, Telethonin): Identification of Cardiac Clock-Controlled Genes Using Open Access Bioinformatics Data 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104907.
Circadian rhythms are important for healthy cardiovascular physiology and are regulated at the molecular level by a circadian clock mechanism. We and others previously demonstrated that 9–13% of the cardiac transcriptome is rhythmic over 24 h daily cycles; the heart is genetically a different organ day versus night. However, which rhythmic mRNAs are regulated by the circadian mechanism is not known. Here, we used open access bioinformatics databases to identify 94 transcripts with expression profiles characteristic of CLOCK and BMAL1 targeted genes, using the CircaDB website and JTK_Cycle. Moreover, 22 were highly expressed in the heart as determined by the BioGPS website. Furthermore, 5 heart-enriched genes had human/mouse conserved CLOCK:BMAL1 promoter binding sites (E-boxes), as determined by UCSC table browser, circadian mammalian promoter/enhancer database PEDB, and the European Bioinformatics Institute alignment tool (EMBOSS). Lastly, we validated findings by demonstrating that Titin cap (Tcap, telethonin) was targeted by transcriptional activators CLOCK and BMAL1 by showing 1) Tcap mRNA and TCAP protein had a diurnal rhythm in murine heart; 2) cardiac Tcap mRNA was rhythmic in animals kept in constant darkness; 3) Tcap and control Per2 mRNA expression and cyclic amplitude were blunted in ClockΔ19/Δ19 hearts; 4) BMAL1 bound to the Tcap promoter by ChIP assay; 5) BMAL1 bound to Tcap promoter E-boxes by biotinylated oligonucleotide assay; and 6) CLOCK and BMAL1 induced tcap expression by luciferase reporter assay. Thus this study identifies circadian regulated genes in silico, with validation of Tcap, a critical regulator of cardiac Z-disc sarcomeric structure and function.
PMCID: PMC4133362  PMID: 25121604
17.  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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3492862  PMID: 23150795
Circadian rhythms; transcription; nascent RNA; high-throughput sequencing; RNA processing; post-transcriptional regulation; Mouse
18.  Direct Regulation of CLOCK Expression by REV-ERB 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(3):e17290.
Circadian rhythms are regulated at the cellular level by transcriptional feedback loops leading to oscillations in expression of key proteins including CLOCK, BMAL1, PERIOD (PER), and CRYPTOCHROME (CRY). The CLOCK and BMAL1 proteins are members of the bHLH class of transcription factors and form a heterodimer that regulates the expression of the PER and CRY genes. The nuclear receptor REV-ERBα plays a key role in regulation of oscillations in BMAL1 expression by directly binding to the BMAL1 promoter and suppressing its expression at certain times of day when REV-ERBα expression levels are elevated. We recently demonstrated that REV-ERBα also regulates the expression of NPAS2, a heterodimer partner of BMAL1. Here, we show that REV-ERBα also regulates the expression another heterodimer partner of BMAL1, CLOCK. We identified a REV-ERBα binding site within the 1st intron of the CLOCK gene using a chromatin immunoprecipitation – microarray screen. Suppression of REV-ERBα expression resulted in elevated CLOCK mRNA expression consistent with REV-ERBα's role as a transcriptional repressor. A REV-ERB response element (RevRE) was identified within this region of the CLOCK gene and was conserved between humans and mice. Additionally, the CLOCK RevRE conferred REV-ERB responsiveness to a heterologous reporter gene. Our data suggests that REV-ERBα plays a dual role in regulation of the activity of the BMAL1/CLOCK heterodimer by regulation of expression of both the BMAL1 and CLOCK genes.
PMCID: PMC3066191  PMID: 21479263
19.  Molecular assembly of the period-cryptochrome circadian transcriptional repressor complex 
eLife  2014;3:e03674.
The mammalian circadian clock is driven by a transcriptional–translational feedback loop, which produces robust 24-hr rhythms. Proper oscillation of the clock depends on the complex formation and periodic turnover of the Period and Cryptochrome proteins, which together inhibit their own transcriptional activator complex, CLOCK-BMAL1. We determined the crystal structure of the CRY-binding domain (CBD) of PER2 in complex with CRY2 at 2.8 Å resolution. PER2-CBD adopts a highly extended conformation, embracing CRY2 with a sinuous binding mode. Its N-terminal end tucks into CRY adjacent to a large pocket critical for CLOCK-BMAL1 binding, while its C-terminal half flanks the CRY2 C-terminal helix and sterically hinders the recognition of CRY2 by the FBXL3 ubiquitin ligase. Unexpectedly, a strictly conserved intermolecular zinc finger, whose integrity is important for clock rhythmicity, further stabilizes the complex. Our structure-guided analyses show that these interspersed CRY-interacting regions represent multiple functional modules of PERs at the CRY-binding interface.
eLife digest
Since the very simplest organisms emerged on earth, the rhythms of life have been synchronized with the rising and setting of the sun. Even the most basic life forms have internal clocks that help them to maintain daily routines and adapt to shifting seasons. In animals, these internal clocks regulate processes such as the release of hormones that wake an animal up and the expression of genes necessary to carry out the activities of daily life. Later on, the clocks then trigger the release of hormones that cause drowsiness and the expression of the genes that are active during rest.
In mammals, these internal circadian rhythms are maintained by a feedback loop governed by four key proteins. Two of these proteins—CLOCK and BMAL1—work together to begin a process called transcription, whereby sections of DNA are used as a template to copy the information needed to make a protein. The two activating proteins CLOCK and BMAL1 recognize the sections of DNA where the genes that are controlled by the circadian clock are located and selectively turn on the expression of those genes.
Expression of the two other key circadian proteins—Period and Cryptochrome—is switched on by CLOCK and BMAL1. As Period and Cryptochrome proteins accumulate, they begin to inhibit the activity of CLOCK and BMAL1, helping to reduce the rate at which the circadian genes are transcribed as the day progresses.
Nangle et al. provide new insights into how the Period and Cryptochrome proteins interact with each other, using X-ray crystallography to reveal the molecular level details of the bond between the two proteins. Period stretches out as it ‘embraces’ Cryptochrome. One end of the Period protein then tucks into part of the Cryptochrome structure that is next to a large pocket. This pocket is where the Cryptochrome protein binds to CLOCK and BMAL1, suggesting that Period can influence whether this binding occurs.
The other end of the Period protein covers one end of the Cryptochrome protein. By doing so, enzymes cannot bind there, and so cannot break down Cryptochrome. Nangle et al. also discovered that a finger-like projection that includes a zinc ion acts as a clasp, strengthening the bond between Period and Cryptochrome.
These findings help to demonstrate how Period proteins act as a timekeeper that regulates how long Cryptochrome can turn down the activity of CLOCK and BMAL1. A deeper understanding of the molecular choreography among the four clock proteins holds promise for developing medications to treat the sleep disorders and circadian clock disruptions associated with a modern lifestyle.
PMCID: PMC4157330  PMID: 25127877
circadian rhythm; cryptochrome; period; mouse
20.  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
21.  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
22.  Tuning the Mammalian Circadian Clock: Robust Synergy of Two Loops 
PLoS Computational Biology  2011;7(12):e1002309.
The circadian clock is accountable for the regulation of internal rhythms in most living organisms. It allows the anticipation of environmental changes during the day and a better adaptation of physiological processes. In mammals the main clock is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and synchronizes secondary clocks throughout the body. Its molecular constituents form an intracellular network which dictates circadian time and regulates clock-controlled genes. These clock-controlled genes are involved in crucial biological processes including metabolism and cell cycle regulation. Its malfunction can lead to disruption of biological rhythms and cause severe damage to the organism. The detailed mechanisms that govern the circadian system are not yet completely understood. Mathematical models can be of great help to exploit the mechanism of the circadian circuitry. We built a mathematical model for the core clock system using available data on phases and amplitudes of clock components obtained from an extensive literature search. This model was used to answer complex questions for example: how does the degradation rate of Per affect the period of the system and what is the role of the ROR/Bmal/REV-ERB (RBR) loop? Our findings indicate that an increase in the RNA degradation rate of the clock gene Period (Per) can contribute to increase or decrease of the period - a consequence of a non-monotonic effect of Per transcript stability on the circadian period identified by our model. Furthermore, we provide theoretical evidence for a potential role of the RBR loop as an independent oscillator. We carried out overexpression experiments on members of the RBR loop which lead to loss of oscillations consistent with our predictions. These findings challenge the role of the RBR loop as a merely auxiliary loop and might change our view of the clock molecular circuitry and of the function of the nuclear receptors (REV-ERB and ROR) as a putative driving force of molecular oscillations.
Author Summary
Most organisms have evolved an internal clock which allows them to anticipate and react to the light/dark daily rhythm and is able to generate oscillation with a circa 24 hour rhythm. A molecular network involving feedback loops is responsible for the rhythm generation. A large number of clock-controlled genes pass on time messages and control several biological processes. In spite of its medical importance (role in cancer, sleep disorders, diabetes and others) the mechanism of action of the circadian clock and the role of its constituent's feedback loops remains partially unknown. Using a mathematical model, we were able to bring insight in open circadian biology questions. Firstly, increasing the mRNA degradation rate of Per can contribute to increase or decrease of the period which might explain contradictory experimental findings. Secondly, our data points to a more relevant role of the ROR/Bmal/REV-ERB loop. In particular, that this loop can be an oscillator on its own. We provide experimental evidence that overexpression of members of the ROR/Bmal/REV-ERB lead to loss of Bmal reporter mRNA oscillations. The fact that REV-ERB and ROR are nuclear receptors and therefore important regulators in many cellular processes might have important implications for molecular biology and medicine.
PMCID: PMC3240597  PMID: 22194677
23.  Profiling of Circadian Genes Expressed in the Uterus Endometrial Stromal Cells of Pregnant Rats as Revealed by DNA Microarray Coupled with RNA Interference 
The peripheral circadian oscillator plays an essential role in synchronizing local physiology to operate in a circadian manner via regulation of the expression of clock-controlled genes. The present study aimed to evaluate the circadian rhythms of clock genes and clock-controlled genes expressed in the rat uterus endometrial stromal cells (UESCs) during the stage of implantation by a DNA microarray. Of 12,252 genes showing significantly expression, 7,235 genes displayed significant alterations. As revealed by the biological pathway analysis using the database for annotation, visualization, and integrated discovery online annotation software, genes were involved in cell cycle, glutathione metabolism, MAPK signaling pathway, fatty acid metabolism, ubiquitin mediated proteolysis, focal adhesion, and PPAR signaling pathway. The clustering of clock genes were mainly divided into four groups: the first group was Rorα, Timeless, Npas2, Bmal1, Id2, and Cry2; the second group Per1, Per2, Per3, Dec1, Tef, and Dbp; the third group Bmal2, Cry1, E4bp4, Rorβ, and Clock; the fourth group Rev-erbα. Eleven implantation-related genes and 24 placenta formation-related genes displayed significant alterations, suggesting that these genes involved in implantation and placenta formation are controlled under circadian clock. Some candidates as clock-controlled genes were evaluated by using RNA interference to Bmal1 mRNA. Down-regulation of Igf1 gene expression was observed by Bmal1 silencing, whereas the expression of Inhβa was significantly increased. During active oscillation of circadian clock, the apoptosis-related genes Fas and Caspase3 remained no significant changes, but they were significantly increased by knockdown of Bmal1 mRNA. These results indicate that clock-controlled genes are up- or down-regulated in rat UESCs during the stage of decidualization. DNA microarray analysis coupled with RNA interference will be helpful to understand the physiological roles of some oscillating genes in blastocyst implantation and placenta formation.
PMCID: PMC3703733  PMID: 23847593
uterus endometrial stromal cells; clock genes; clock-controlled genes; DNA microarray; implantation; decidualization; Bmal1 siRNA; Per2-dLuc reporter gene
24.  Circadian Proteins CLOCK and BMAL1 in the Chromatoid Body, a RNA Processing Granule of Male Germ Cells 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e42695.
Spermatogenesis is a complex differentiation process that involves genetic and epigenetic regulation, sophisticated hormonal control, and extensive structural changes in male germ cells. RNA nuclear and cytoplasmic bodies appear to be critical for the progress of spermatogenesis. The chromatoid body (CB) is a cytoplasmic organelle playing an important role in RNA post-transcriptional and translation regulation during the late steps of germ cell differentiation. The CB is also important for fertility determination since mutations of genes encoding its components cause infertility by spermatogenesis arrest. Targeted ablation of the Bmal1 and Clock genes, which encode central regulators of the circadian clock also result in fertility defects caused by problems other than spermatogenesis alterations. We show that the circadian proteins CLOCK and BMAL1 are localized in the CB in a stage-specific manner of germ cells. Both BMAL1 and CLOCK proteins physically interact with the ATP-dependent DEAD-box RNA helicase MVH (mouse VASA homolog), a hallmark component of the CB. BMAL1 is differentially expressed during the spermatogenic cycle of seminiferous tubules, and Bmal1 and Clock deficient mice display significant CB morphological alterations due to BMAL1 ablation or low expression. These findings suggest that both BMAL1 and CLOCK contribute to CB assembly and physiology, raising questions on the role of the circadian clock in reproduction and on the molecular function that CLOCK and BMAL1 could potentially have in the CB assembly and physiology.
PMCID: PMC3416844  PMID: 22900038
25.  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.
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.
PMCID: PMC3622178  PMID: 23580255
Clock gene; USF1; genetic modifier; circadian rhythms; mouse genetics; ChIP-Seq; Mouse

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