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Curr Biol. 2008 Sep 9;18(17):R816-R825. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.012.

A cyanobacterial circadian clockwork.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.


Cyanobacteria have become a major model system for analyzing circadian rhythms. The temporal program in this organism enhances fitness in rhythmic environments and is truly global--essentially all genes are regulated by the circadian system. The topology of the chromosome also oscillates and possibly regulates the rhythm of gene expression. The underlying circadian mechanism appears to consist of both a post-translational oscillator (PTO) and a transcriptional/translational feedback loop (TTFL). The PTO can be reconstituted in vitro with three purified proteins (KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC) and ATP. These three core oscillator proteins have been crystallized and structurally determined, the only full-length circadian proteins to be so characterized. The timing of cell division is gated by a circadian checkpoint, but the circadian pacemaker is not influenced by the status of the cell division cycle. This imperturbability may be due to the presence of the PTO that persists under conditions in which metabolism is repressed. Recent biochemical, biophysical, and structural discoveries have brought the cyanobacterial circadian system to the brink of explaining heretofore unexplainable biochemical characteristics of a circadian oscillator: the long time constant, precision, and temperature compensation.

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