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1.  Functional Analysis of Nocturnin, a Circadian Deadenylase, at Maternal-to-zygotic Transition in Mice 
Degradation of maternally stored mRNAs after fertilization is an essential process for mammalian embryogenesis. Maternal mRNA degradation depending on deadenylases in mammalian early embryos has been mostly speculated, rather than directly demonstrated. Previously, we found that gene expression of nocturnin, which functions as a circadian clock-controlled deadenylase in mammalian cells, was clearly changed during the maternal-to-zygotic transition (MZT). Here, we investigated the possible role of nocturnin during mouse MZT. First, we examined the expression profile and localization of nocturnin in mouse oocytes and early embryos. The abundance of Nocturnin mRNA level was significantly decreased from the MII to 4-cell stages and slightly increased from the 8-cell to blastocyst stages, whereas the Nocturnin protein level was almost stable in all examined cells including GV and MII oocytes and early embryos. Nocturnin was localized in both the cytoplasm and the nucleus of all examined cells. We then examined the effect of loss or gain of Nocturnin function on early embryonic development. Knockdown of Nocturnin by injection of Nocturnin antisense expression vector into 1-cell embryos resulted in the delay of early embryonic development to the early blastocyst stage. Moreover, Nocturnin-overexpressed embryos by injection of Nocturnin expression vector impaired their development from the 1-cell to 2-cell or 4-cell stages. These results suggest that precise expression of nocturnin is critical to proper development of early mouse embryos. Functional analysis of nocturnin may contribute to the understanding of the possible role of the deadenylase at mouse MZT.
PMCID: PMC3934129  PMID: 23449310
Deadenylase; Early embryonic development; Mouse; Nocturnin
2.  MicroRNA-122 Modulates the Rhythmic Expression Profile of the Circadian Deadenylase Nocturnin in Mouse Liver 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(6):e11264.
Nocturnin is a circadian clock-regulated deadenylase thought to control mRNA expression post-transcriptionally through poly(A) tail removal. The expression of Nocturnin is robustly rhythmic in liver at both the mRNA and protein levels, and mice lacking Nocturnin are resistant to diet-induced obesity and hepatic steatosis. Here we report that Nocturnin expression is regulated by microRNA-122 (miR-122), a liver specific miRNA. We found that the 3′-untranslated region (3′-UTR) of Nocturnin mRNA harbors one putative recognition site for miR-122, and this site is conserved among mammals. Using a luciferase reporter construct with wild-type or mutant Nocturnin 3′-UTR sequence, we demonstrated that overexpression of miR-122 can down-regulate luciferase activity levels and that this effect is dependent on the presence of the putative miR-122 recognition site. Additionally, the use of an antisense oligonucleotide to knock down miR-122 in vivo resulted in significant up-regulation of both Nocturnin mRNA and protein expression in mouse liver during the night, resulting in Nocturnin rhythms with increased amplitude. Together, these data demonstrate that the normal rhythmic profile of Nocturnin expression in liver is shaped in part by miR-122. Previous studies have implicated Nocturnin and miR-122 as important post-transcriptional regulators of both lipid metabolism and circadian clock controlled gene expression in the liver. Therefore, the demonstration that miR-122 plays a role in regulating Nocturnin expression suggests that this may be an important intersection between hepatic metabolic and circadian control.
PMCID: PMC2889834  PMID: 20582318
3.  Circadian Genes, xBmal1 and xNocturnin, Modulate the Timing and Differentiation of Somites in Xenopus laevis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e108266.
We have been investigating whether xBmal1 and xNocturnin play a role in somitogenesis, a cyclic developmental process with an ultradian period. Previous work from our lab shows that circadian genes (xPeriod1, xPeriod2, xBmal1, and xNocturnin) are expressed in developing somites. Somites eventually form the vertebrae, muscles of the back, and dermis. In Xenopus, a pair of somites is formed about every 50 minutes from anterior to posterior. We were intrigued by the co-localization of circadian genes in an embryonic tissue known to be regulated by an ultradian clock. Cyclic expression of genes involved in Notch signaling has been implicated in the somite clock. Disruption of Notch signaling in humans has been linked to skeletal defects in the vertebral column. We found that both depletion (morpholino) and overexpression (mRNA) of xBMAL1 protein (bHLH transcription factor) or xNOCTURNIN protein (deadenylase) on one side of the developing embryo led to a significant decrease in somite number with respect to the untreated side (p<0.001). These manipulations also significantly affect expression of a somite clock component (xESR9; p<0.05). We observed opposing effects on somite size. Depletion of xBMAL1 or xNOCTURNIN caused a statistically significant decrease in somite area (quantified using NIH ImageJ; p<0.002), while overexpression of these proteins caused a significant dose dependent increase in somite area (p<0.02; p<0.001, respectively). We speculate that circadian genes may play two separate roles during somitogenesis. Depletion and overexpression of xBMAL1 and NOCTURNIN both decrease somite number and influence expression of a somite clock component, suggesting that these proteins may modulate the timing of the somite clock in the undifferentiated presomitic mesoderm. The dosage dependent effects on somite area suggest that xBMAL1 and xNOCTURNIN may also act during somite differentiation to promote myogenesis.
PMCID: PMC4169625  PMID: 25238599
4.  Nocturnin: A Circadian Target of Pparg- Induced Adipogenesis 
Nuclear receptors (NRs) control cell fate and regulate tissue function. Some of the NRs are expressed in a circadian and tissue specific manner. Clock genes are part of the circadian network and fine tune gene expression in adipose and skeletal tissues. Pparg, a master transcription factor that determines adipogenesis exhibits a circadian expression pattern in white adipose tissue and liver. In this paper we found that message and protein for a peripheral clock gene, nocturnin, is markedly up-regulated with Pparg activation in adipocytes and bone marrow stromal cells. Nocturnin is also expressed in relatively high amounts in other tissues which may have physiologic relevance for bone, including the brain and hypothalamus. Importantly, we found polymorphic strain differences in bone marrow nocturnin expression that relate to phenotypic determinants of skeletal acquisition. Defining the function of nocturnin in peripheral tissues should provide new insights into lineage allocation and the intimate relationship between nuclear receptors and physiologic timekeeping.
PMCID: PMC3503505  PMID: 20392228
5.  Circadian Regulation of nocturnin Transcription by Phosphorylated CREB in Xenopus Retinal Photoreceptor Cells 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2002;22(21):7501-7511.
Although CLOCK/BMAL1 heterodimers have been implicated in transcriptional regulation of several rhythmic genes in vitro through E-box sequence elements, little is known about how the circadian clock regulates rhythmic genes with diverse phases in vivo. The gene nocturnin is rhythmically transcribed in Xenopus retinal photoreceptor cells, which contain endogenous circadian clocks. Transcription of nocturnin peaks in these cells in the middle of the night, while CLOCK/BMAL1 activity peaks during the early morning. We have identified a novel protein-binding motif within the nocturnin promoter, which we designated the nocturnin element (NE). Although the NE sequence closely resembles an E-box, our data show that it functions as a cyclic AMP response element (CRE) by binding CREB. Furthermore, phosphorylated CREB (P-CREB) levels are rhythmic in Xenopus photoreceptors, with a phase similar to that of nocturnin transcription. Our results suggest that P-CREB controls the rhythmic regulation of nocturnin transcription and perhaps that of other night phase genes. The NE may be an evolutionary intermediate between the E-box and CRE sequences, both of which seem to be involved in the circadian control of transcription, but have evolved to drive transcription with different phases in these clock-containing cells.
PMCID: PMC135673  PMID: 12370297
6.  PPARγ: a circadian transcription factor in adipogenesis and osteogenesis 
Nature reviews. Endocrinology  2010;6(11):629-636.
Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) is a critical factor for adipogenesis and glucose metabolism, but accumulating evidence demonstrates the involvement of PPARγ in skeletal metabolism as well. PPARγ agonists, the thiazolidinediones (TZDs), have been widely used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus owing to their effectiveness in lowering blood glucose. However, the use of TZDs has been associated with bone loss and fractures. TZD-induced alterations in the bone marrow milieu—that is, increased marrow adiposity with suppression of osteogenesis—could partially explain the pathogenesis of TZD-induced bone loss Furthermore, several lines of evidence place PPARγ at the center of a regulatory loop between circadian networks and metabolic output. PPARγ exhibits a circadian expression pattern that is magnified by consumption of a high-fat diet. One of the circadian-regulated genes expressed in peripheral tissues, nocturnin (Noc), has been shown to enhance PPARγ activity. Importantly Noc-deficient mice are protected from diet-induced obesity, exhibit impaired circadian expression of PPARγ and have increased bone mass. This Review focuses on new findings regarding the role of PPARγ in adipose tissue and skeletal metabolism and summarizes the emerging role of PPARγ as an integral part of a complex circadian regulatory system that modulates food storage, energy consumption and skeletal metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3132113  PMID: 20820194
7.  Rhythmic expression of Nocturnin mRNA in multiple tissues of the mouse 
Nocturnin was originally identified by differential display as a circadian clock regulated gene with high expression at night in photoreceptors of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. Although encoding a novel protein, the nocturnin cDNA had strong sequence similarity with a C-terminal domain of the yeast transcription factor CCR4, and with mouse and human ESTs. Since its original identification others have cloned mouse and human homologues of nocturnin/CCR4, and we have cloned a full-length cDNA from mouse retina, along with partial cDNAs from human, cow and chicken. The goal of this study was to determine the temporal pattern of nocturnin mRNA expression in multiple tissues of the mouse.
cDNA sequence analysis revealed a high degree of conservation among vertebrate nocturnin/CCR4 homologues along with a possible homologue in Drosophila. Northern analysis of mRNA in C3H/He and C57/Bl6 mice revealed that the mNoc gene is expressed in a broad range of tissues, with greatest abundance in liver, kidney and testis. mNoc is also expressed in multiple brain regions including suprachiasmatic nucleus and pineal gland. Furthermore, mNoc exhibits circadian rhythmicity of mRNA abundance with peak levels at the time of light offset in the retina, spleen, heart, kidney and liver.
The widespread expression and rhythmicity of mNoc mRNA parallels the widespread expression of other circadian clock genes in mammalian tissues, and suggests that nocturnin plays an important role in clock function or as a circadian clock effector.
PMCID: PMC32249  PMID: 11394964
8.  The Circadian Deadenylase Nocturnin Is Necessary for Stabilization of the iNOS mRNA in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e26954.
Nocturnin is a member of the CCR4 deadenylase family, and its expression is under circadian control with peak levels at night. Because it can remove poly(A) tails from mRNAs, it is presumed to play a role in post-transcriptional control of circadian gene expression, but its target mRNAs are not known. Here we demonstrate that Nocturnin expression is acutely induced by the endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs) lacking Nocturnin exhibit normal patterns of acute induction of TNFα and iNOS mRNAs during the first three hours following LPS treatment, but by 24 hours, while TNFα mRNA levels are indistinguishable from WT cells, iNOS message is significantly reduced 20-fold. Accordingly, analysis of the stability of the mRNAs showed that loss of Nocturnin causes a significant decrease in the half-life of the iNOS mRNA (t1/2 = 3.3 hours in Nocturnin knockout MEFs vs. 12.4 hours in wild type MEFs), while having no effect on the TNFα message. Furthermore, mice lacking Nocturnin lose the normal nighttime peak of hepatic iNOS mRNA, and have improved survival following LPS injection. These data suggest that Nocturnin has a novel stabilizing activity that plays an important role in the circadian response to inflammatory signals.
PMCID: PMC3206874  PMID: 22073225
9.  Nocturnin Expression Is Induced by Fasting in the White Adipose Tissue of Restricted Fed Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(2):e17051.
The relationship between circadian clocks and metabolism is intimate and complex and a number of recent studies have begun to reveal previously unknown effects of food and its temporal availability on the clock and the rhythmic transcriptome of peripheral tissues. Nocturnin, a circadian deadenylase, is expressed rhythmically in a wide variety of tissues, but we report here that Nocturnin expression is arrhythmic in epididymal white adipose tissue (eWAT) of mice housed in 12∶12 LD with ad libitum access to food. However, Nocturnin expression becomes rhythmic in eWAT of mice placed on restricted feeding. We show here that Nocturnin's rhythmic expression pattern is not dependent upon feeding, nor is it acutely induced by feeding in the liver or eWAT of ad libitum fed mice. However, Nocturnin is acutely induced by the absence of the expected meal in eWAT of restricted fed mice. A rise in cAMP levels also induces Nocturnin expression, suggesting that Nocturnin's induction in eWAT by fasting is likely mediated through the same pathways that activate lipolysis. Therefore, this suggests that Nocturnin plays a role in linking nutrient sensing by the circadian clock to lipid mobilization in the adipocytes.
PMCID: PMC3037405  PMID: 21347334
10.  Nocturnin regulates circadian trafficking of dietary lipid in intestinal enterocytes 
Current biology : CB  2011;21(16):1347-1355.
Efficient metabolic function in mammals depends on the circadian clock, which drives temporal regulation of metabolic processes. Nocturnin is a clock-regulated deadenylase that controls its target mRNA expression post-transcriptionally through poly(A) tail removal. Mice lacking Nocturnin (Noc−/− mice) are resistant to diet-induced obesity and hepatic steatosis, yet are not hyperactive or hypophagic.
Here we show that Nocturnin is expressed rhythmically in the small intestine, is induced by olive oil gavage and that the Noc−/− mice have reduced chylomicron transit into the plasma following the ingestion of dietary lipids. Genes involved in triglyceride synthesis, storage and chylomicron formation have altered expression and large cytoplasmic lipid droplets accumulate in the apical domains of the Noc−/− enterocytes. The physiological significance of this deficit in absorption is clear since maintenance of Noc−/− mice on diets that challenge the chylomicron synthesis pathway result in significant reductions in body weight, while diets that bypass this pathway do not.
Therefore we propose that Nocturnin plays an important role in the trafficking of dietary lipid in the intestinal enterocyes by optimizing efficient absorption of lipids.
PMCID: PMC3159848  PMID: 21820310
11.  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
12.  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
13.  A Novel Protein, CHRONO, Functions as a Core Component of the Mammalian Circadian Clock 
PLoS Biology  2014;12(4):e1001839.
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.
Circadian rhythms are controlled by a system of negative and positive genetic feedback loops composed of clock genes. Although many genes have been implicated in these feedback loops, it is unclear whether our current list of clock genes is exhaustive. We have recently identified Chrono as a robustly cycling transcript through genome-wide profiling of BMAL1 binding on the E-box. Here, we explore the role of Chrono in cellular timekeeping. Remarkably, endogenous CHRONO occupancy around E-boxes shows a circadian oscillation antiphasic to BMAL1. Overexpression of Chrono leads to suppression of BMAL1–CLOCK activity in a histone deacetylase (HDAC) –dependent manner. In vivo loss-of-function studies of Chrono including Avp neuron-specific knockout (KO) mice display a longer circadian period of locomotor activity. Chrono KO also alters the expression of core clock genes and impairs the response of the circadian clock to stress. CHRONO forms a complex with the glucocorticoid receptor and mediates glucocorticoid response. Our comprehensive study spotlights a previously unrecognized clock component of an unsuspected negative circadian feedback loop that is independent of another negative regulator, Cry2, and that integrates behavioral stress and epigenetic control for efficient metabolic integration of the clock.
Author Summary
The circadian clock has a fundamental role in regulating biological temporal rhythms in organisms, and it is tightly controlled by a molecular circuit consisting of positive and negative regulatory feedback loops. Although many of the clock genes comprising this circuit have been identified, there are still some critical components missing. Here, we characterize a circadian gene renamed Chrono (Gm129) and show that it functions as a transcriptional repressor of the negative feedback loop in the mammalian clock. Chrono binds to the regulatory region of clock genes and its occupancy oscillates in a circadian manner. Chrono knockout and Avp-neuron-specific knockout mice display longer circadian periods and altered expression of core clock genes. We show that Chrono-mediated repression involves the suppression of BMAL1–CLOCK activity via an epigenetic mechanism and that it regulates metabolic pathways triggered by behavioral stress. Our study suggests that Chrono functions as a clock repressor and reveals the molecular mechanisms underlying its function.
PMCID: PMC3988004  PMID: 24736997
14.  Nocturnin: At the Crossroads of Clocks and Metabolism 
Many aspects of metabolism exhibit daily rhythmicity under the control of endogenous circadian clocks, and disruptions in circadian timing result in dysfunctions associated with the metabolic syndrome. Nocturnin (Noc) is a robustly rhythmic gene that encodes a deadenylase thought to be involved in the removal of polyA tails from mRNAs. Mice lacking the Noc gene display resistance to diet-induced obesity and hepatic steatosis, due in part to reduced lipid trafficking in the small intestine. In addition, Noc appears to play important roles in other tissues and has been implicated in lipid metabolism, adipogenesis, glucose homeostasis, inflammation and osteogenesis. Therefore, Noc is a potential key post-transcriptional mediator in the circadian control of many metabolic processes.
PMCID: PMC3389576  PMID: 22608110
Nocturnin; Ccrn4l; Circadian; Deadenylase; Post-transcriptional; Metabolic syndrome
15.  A mechanism for robust circadian timekeeping via stoichiometric balance 
An accurate mathematical model of the mammalian circadian clock provides novel insights into the mechanisms that generate 24-h rhythms. A double-negative feedback loop design is proposed for biological clocks whose period needs to be tightly regulated.
A 1–1 stoichiometric balance and tight binding between activators (PER–CRY) and repressors (BMAL1–CLOCK/NPAS2) is required for sustained rhythmicity.Stoichiometry is balanced by an additional negative feedback loop consisting of a stable activator.Our detailed model can explain more experimental data than previous models.Mathematical analysis of a simple model supports our claims.
Circadian (∼24 h) timekeeping is essential for the lives of many organisms. To understand the biochemical mechanisms of this timekeeping, we have developed a detailed mathematical model of the mammalian circadian clock. Our model can accurately predict diverse experimental data including the phenotypes of mutations or knockdown of clock genes as well as the time courses and relative expression of clock transcripts and proteins. Using this model, we show how a universal motif of circadian timekeeping, where repressors tightly bind activators rather than directly binding to DNA, can generate oscillations when activators and repressors are in stoichiometric balance. Furthermore, we find that an additional slow negative feedback loop preserves this stoichiometric balance and maintains timekeeping with a fixed period. The role of this mechanism in generating robust rhythms is validated by analysis of a simple and general model and a previous model of the Drosophila circadian clock. We propose a double-negative feedback loop design for biological clocks whose period needs to be tightly regulated even with large changes in gene dosage.
PMCID: PMC3542529  PMID: 23212247
biological clocks; circadian rhythms; gene regulatory networks; mathematical model; robustness
16.  Controlling Osteogenesis and Adipogenesis of Mesenchymal Stromal Cells by Regulating A Circadian Clock Protein with Laser Irradiation 
Mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) are multipotent cells present in adult bone marrow that replicate as undifferentiated cells and can differentiate to lineages of mesenchymal tissues. Homeostatic control of bone remodelling maintains bone mass by insuring that bone resorption and bone formation occur sequentially and in a balanced manner. As most homeostatic functions occur in a circadian manner, a circadian clock could control bone mass. Here, we show that laser irradiation can direct the osteogenesis and adipogenesis of mouse MSCs by altering the intracellular localization of the circadian rhythm protein Cryptochrome 1 (mCRY1). After laser irradiation (wavelength: 405 nm) to MSCs, circadian rhythm protein, mCRY1 and mPER2, were immunostained and histochemical stainings for osteogenic or adipogenic differentiation were observed. Laser irradiation promoted osteogenesis and reduced adipogenesis of MSCs, induced the translocation of mCRY1 and mPER2 protein from the cytoplasm to the nucleus, and decreased mCRY1 mRNA levels quantified by real-time PCR. Since the timing of nuclear accumulation of clock proteins constitutes an important step in the transcription-translation feedback loop driving the circadian core oscillator, laser irradiation could provide a simple and effective technology for clock protein localization and turnover. Our results also indicate that mCRY1 is a master regulator of circadian rhythm that regulates the differentiation of MSCs. Laser irradiation could provide a simple and effective means of controlling the fate of MSCs as a therapeutic strategy and act 'molecular switch' of regulatory proteins by suppressing CRY transcription. Furthermore, this model system may be useful for exploring the crosstalk between circadian rhythm and cell differentiation.
PMCID: PMC2574021  PMID: 18974860
cryptochrome; osteogenesis; adipogenesis; laser; mesenchymal stromal cells
17.  Chronic Ethanol Consumption Disrupts the Core Molecular Clock and Diurnal Rhythms of Metabolic Genes in the Liver without Affecting the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71684.
Chronic ethanol consumption disrupts several metabolic pathways including β-oxidation and lipid biosynthesis, facilitating the development of alcoholic fatty liver disease. Many of these same metabolic pathways are directly regulated by cell autonomous circadian clocks, and recent studies suggest that disruption of daily rhythms in metabolism contributes to multiple common cardiometabolic diseases (including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). However, it is not known whether ethanol disrupts the core molecular clock in the liver, nor whether this, in turn, alters rhythms in lipid metabolism. Herein, we tested the hypothesis that chronic ethanol consumption disrupts the molecular circadian clock in the liver and potentially changes the diurnal expression patterns of lipid metabolism genes. Consistent with previous studies, male C57BL/6J mice fed an ethanol-containing diet exhibited higher levels of liver triglycerides compared to control mice, indicating hepatic steatosis. Further, the diurnal oscillations of core clock genes (Bmal1, Clock, Cry1, Cry2, Per1, and Per2) and clock-controlled genes (Dbp, Hlf, Nocturnin, Npas2, Rev-erbα, and Tef) were altered in livers from ethanol-fed mice. In contrast, ethanol had only minor effects on the expression of core clock genes in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). These results were confirmed in Per2Luciferase knock-in mice, in which ethanol induced a phase advance in PER2::LUC bioluminescence oscillations in liver, but not SCN. Further, there was greater variability in the phase of PER2::LUC oscillations in livers from ethanol-fed mice. Ethanol consumption also affected the diurnal oscillations of metabolic genes, including Adh1, Cpt1a, Cyp2e1, Pck1, Pdk4, Ppargc1a, Ppargc1b and Srebp1c, in the livers of C57BL/6J mice. In summary, chronic ethanol consumption alters the function of the circadian clock in liver. Importantly, these results suggest that chronic ethanol consumption, at levels sufficient to cause steatosis, disrupts the core hepatic clock as well as the diurnal rhythms of key lipid metabolism genes.
PMCID: PMC3741117  PMID: 23951220
18.  Genetics and Neurobiology of Circadian Clocks in Mammals 
In animals circadian behavior can be analyzed as an integrated system - beginning with genes leading ultimately to behavioral outputs. In the last decade, the molecular mechanism of circadian clocks has been unraveled primarily by the use of phenotype-driven (forward) genetic analysis in a number of model systems. Circadian oscillations are generated by a set of genes forming a transcriptional autoregulatory feedback loop. In mammals, there is a “core” set of circadian genes that form the primary negative feedback loop of the clock mechanism (Clock/Npas2, Bmal1, Per1, Per2, Cry1, Cry2 and CK1ε). Another dozen candidate genes have been identified and play additional roles in the circadian gene network such as the feedback loop involving Rev-erbα. Despite this remarkable progress, it is clear that a significant number of genes that strongly influence and regulate circadian rhythms in mammals remain to be discovered and identified. As part of a large-scale N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea (ENU) mutagenesis screen using a wide range of nervous system and behavioral phenotypes, we have identified a number of new circadian mutants in mice. Here we describe a new short period circadian mutant, part-time (prtm), which is caused by a loss-of-function mutation in the Cryptochrome1 gene. We also describe a long period circadian mutant named Overtime (Ovtm). Positional cloning and genetic complementation reveal that Ovtm is encoded by the F-box protein FBXL3 a component of the SKP1-CUL1-F-box-protein (SCF) E3 ubiquitin ligase complex. The Ovtm mutation causes an isoleucine to threonine (I364T) substitution leading to a loss-of-function in FBXL3 which interacts specifically with the CRYPTOCHROME (CRY) proteins. In Ovtm mice, expression of the PERIOD proteins PER1 and PER2 is reduced; however, the CRY proteins CRY1 and CRY2 are unchanged. The loss of FBXL3 function leads to a stabilization of the CRY proteins, which in turn leads to a global transcriptional repression of the Per and Cry genes. Thus, Fbxl3Ovtm defines a molecular link between CRY turnover and CLOCK/BMAL1-dependent circadian transcription to modulate circadian period.
PMCID: PMC3749845  PMID: 18419282
19.  Neonatal Alcohol Exposure Differentially Alters Clock Gene Oscillations Within the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus, Cerebellum, and Liver of Adult Rats 
In rats, alcohol exposure during the period of rapid brain growth produces long-term changes in the free-running period, photoentrainment and phase-shifting responses of the circadian rhythm in wheel-running behavior. To determine whether these alterations in circadian behavior are associated with permanent damage to the circadian timekeeping mechanism or reconfiguration of its molecular components, we examined the long-term effects of neonatal alcohol exposure on clock gene rhythms in the pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and in other brain or peripheral tissues of adult rats.
Artificially reared male rat pups were exposed to alcohol (4.5 g / kg / d) or isocaloric milk formula (gastrostomy control; GC) on postnatal days 4 to 9. At 3 months of age, animals were exposed to constant darkness and then SCN, cerebellum, and liver tissue were harvested at 6-hour intervals for subsequent analysis of Period1 (Per1), Per2, Cryptochrome1 (Cry1), Bmal1, and Rev-erbα mRNA levels by quantitative PCR.
In the SCN, cerebellum and liver, Per1, Per2, Cry1, Bmal1, and Rev-erbα expression oscillated with a similar amplitude (peak-to-trough differences of 2- to 9-fold) and phase in the suckle control (SC) and GC groups. These clock gene rhythms in control animals were marked by peak expression of Per1, Per2, Cry1, and Rev-erbα during the subjective day and of Bmal1 during the subjective night. The EtOH group was distinguished by altered rhythms in the expression of specific clock genes within the SCN, cerebellum and liver. In EtOH-treated rats, the SCN rhythm in Cry1 expression was strongly damped and the Per2 rhythms in the cerebellum and liver were phase-advanced such that peak expression occurred during the mid-subjective day.
These results demonstrate alcohol exposure during the brain growth spurt alters the circadian regulation of some molecular components of the clock mechanism in the rat SCN, cerebellum, and liver. The observed alterations in the temporal configuration of essential “gears” of the molecular clockworks may play a role in the long-term effects of neonatal alcohol exposure on the regulation of circadian behavior.
PMCID: PMC2709413  PMID: 18215209
Circadian Rhythms; Clock; Oscillation; Bmal1; Cry1; Per1; Per2; Rev-erbα
20.  Circadian Genes Are Expressed during Early Development in Xenopus laevis 
PLoS ONE  2008;3(7):e2749.
Circadian oscillators are endogenous time-keeping mechanisms that drive twenty four hour rhythmic changes in gene expression, metabolism, hormone levels, and physical activity. We have examined the developmental expression of genes known to regulate circadian rhythms in order to better understand the ontogeny of the circadian clock in a vertebrate.
Methodology/Principal Findings
In this study, genes known to function together in part of the core circadian oscillator mechanism (xPeriod1, xPeriod2, and xBmal1) as well as a rhythmic, clock-controlled gene (xNocturnin) were analyzed using in situ hybridization in embryos from neurula to late tailbud stages. Each transcript was present in the developing nervous system in the brain, eye, olfactory pit, otic vesicle and at lower levels in the spinal cord. These genes were also expressed in the developing somites and heart, but at different developmental times in peripheral tissues (pronephros, cement gland, and posterior mesoderm). No difference was observed in transcript levels or localization when similarly staged embryos maintained in cyclic light were compared at two times of day (dawn and dusk) by in situ hybridization. Quantitation of xBmal1 expression in embryonic eyes was also performed using qRT-PCR. Eyes were isolated at dawn, midday, dusk, and midnight (cylic light). No difference in expression level between time-points was found in stage 31 eyes (p = 0.176) but stage 40 eyes showed significantly increased levels of xBmal1 expression at midnight (RQ = 1.98+/−0.094) when compared to dawn (RQ = 1+/−0.133; p = 0.0004).
We hypothesize that when circadian genes are not co-expressed in the same tissue during development that it may indicate pleiotropic functions of these genes that are separate from the timing of circadian rhythm. Our results show that all circadian genes analyzed thus far are present during early brain and eye development, but rhythmic gene expression in the eye is not observed until after stage 31 of development.
PMCID: PMC2518526  PMID: 18716681
21.  Circadian Regulation of Food-Anticipatory Activity in Molecular Clock–Deficient Mice 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48892.
In the mammalian brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the anterior hypothalamus is considered to be the principal circadian pacemaker, keeping the rhythm of most physiological and behavioral processes on the basis of light/dark cycles. Because restriction of food availability to a certain time of day elicits anticipatory behavior even after ablation of the SCN, such behavior has been assumed to be under the control of another circadian oscillator. According to recent studies, however, mutant mice lacking circadian clock function exhibit normal food-anticipatory activity (FAA), a daily increase in locomotor activity preceding periodic feeding, suggesting that FAA is independent of the known circadian oscillator. To investigate the molecular basis of FAA, we examined oscillatory properties in mice lacking molecular clock components. Mice with SCN lesions or with mutant circadian periods were exposed to restricted feeding schedules at periods within and outside circadian range. Periodic feeding led to the entrainment of FAA rhythms only within a limited circadian range. Cry1−/− mice, which are known to be a “short-period mutant,” entrained to a shorter period of feeding cycles than did Cry2−/− mice. This result indicated that the intrinsic periods of FAA rhythms are also affected by Cry deficiency. Bmal1−/− mice, deficient in another essential element of the molecular clock machinery, exhibited a pre-feeding increase of activity far from circadian range, indicating a deficit in circadian oscillation. We propose that mice possess a food-entrainable pacemaker outside the SCN in which canonical clock genes such as Cry1, Cry2 and Bmal1 play essential roles in regulating FAA in a circadian oscillatory manner.
PMCID: PMC3492221  PMID: 23145013
22.  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
23.  Skeletal aging and the adipocyte program 
Cell Cycle  2010;9(18):3648-3654.
Aging is associated with profound changes in bone mass and body composition. Emerging evidence supports the hypothesis that alterations in mesenchymal stromal cell fate are a critical etiologic factor. In addition, timekeeping at the cellular level is affected as aging progresses, particularly in the adipocyte. In this Extra View we discuss the interactive role of three molecules, PPARγ, nocturnin and IGF-I, in regulating stem cell fate in the marrow and the potential implications of this network for understanding cellular aging.
PMCID: PMC3047793  PMID: 20890120
aging; bone; PPARγ; nocturnin; IGF-I
24.  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
25.  Deficient of a Clock Gene, Brain and Muscle Arnt-Like Protein-1 (BMAL1), Induces Dyslipidemia and Ectopic Fat Formation 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(9):e25231.
A link between circadian rhythm and metabolism has long been discussed. Circadian rhythm is controlled by positive and negative transcriptional and translational feedback loops composed of several clock genes. Among clock genes, the brain and muscle Arnt-like protein-1 (BMAL1) and circadian locomotor output cycles kaput (CLOCK) play important roles in the regulation of the positive rhythmic transcription. In addition to control of circadian rhythm, we have previously shown that BMAL1 regulates adipogenesis. In metabolic syndrome patients, the function of BMAL1 is dysregulated in visceral adipose tissue. In addition, analysis of SNPs has revealed that BMAL1 is associated with susceptibility to hypertension and type II diabetes. Furthermore, the significant roles of BMAL1 in pancreatic β cells proliferation and maturation were recently reported. These results suggest that BMAL1 regulates energy homeostasis. Therefore, in this study, we examined whether loss of BMAL1 function is capable of inducing metabolic syndrome. Deficient of the Bmal1 gene in mice resulted in elevation of the respiratory quotient value, indicating that BMAL1 is involved in the utilization of fat as an energy source. Indeed, lack of Bmal1 reduced the capacity of fat storage in adipose tissue, resulting in an increase in the levels of circulating fatty acids, including triglycerides, free fatty acids, and cholesterol. Elevation of the circulating fatty acids level induced the formation of ectopic fat in the liver and skeletal muscle in Bmal1 -/- mice. Interestingly, ectopic fat formation was not observed in tissue-specific (liver or skeletal muscle) Bmal1 -/- mice even under high fat diet feeding condition. Therefore, we were led to conclude that BMAL1 is a crucial factor in the regulation of energy homeostasis, and disorders of the functions of BMAL1 lead to the development of metabolic syndrome.
PMCID: PMC3178629  PMID: 21966465

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