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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30781. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030781. Epub 2012 Feb 23.

Circadian rhythms of fetal liver transcription persist in the absence of canonical circadian clock gene expression rhythms in vivo.

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  • 1National Key Laboratory of Virology, College of Life Sciences, Wuhan University, Wuhan, Hubei Province, People's Republic of China.


The cellular circadian clock and systemic cues drive rhythmicity in the transcriptome of adult peripheral tissues. However, the oscillating status of the circadian clocks in fetal tissues, and their response to maternal cues, are less clear. Most clock genes do not cycle in fetal livers from mice and rats, although tissue level rhythms rapidly emerge when fetal mouse liver explants are cultured in vitro. Thus, in the fetal mouse liver, the circadian clock does not oscillate at the cellular level (but is induced to oscillate in culture). To gain a comprehensive overview of the clock status in the fetal liver during late gestation, we performed microarray analyses on fetal liver tissues. In the fetal liver we did not observe circadian rhythms of clock gene expression or many other transcripts known to be rhythmically expressed in the adult liver. Nevertheless, JTK_CYCLE analysis identified some transcripts in the fetal liver that were rhythmically expressed, albeit at low amplitudes. Upon data filtering by coefficient of variation, the expression levels for transcripts related to pancreatic exocrine enzymes and zymogen secretion were found to undergo synchronized daily fluctuations at high amplitudes. These results suggest that maternal cues influence the fetal liver, despite the fact that we did not detect circadian rhythms of canonical clock gene expression in the fetal liver. These results raise important questions on the role of the circadian clock, or lack thereof, during ontogeny.

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