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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38985. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038985. Epub 2012 Jun 11.

Divergent roles of clock genes in retinal and suprachiasmatic nucleus circadian oscillators.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, United States of America.


The retina is both a sensory organ and a self-sustained circadian clock. Gene targeting studies have revealed that mammalian circadian clocks generate molecular circadian rhythms through coupled transcription/translation feedback loops which involve 6 core clock genes, namely Period (Per) 1 and 2, Cryptochrome (Cry) 1 and 2, Clock, and Bmal1 and that the roles of individual clock genes in rhythms generation are tissue-specific. However, the mechanisms of molecular circadian rhythms in the mammalian retina are incompletely understood and the extent to which retinal neural clocks share mechanisms with the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the central neural clock, is unclear. In the present study, we examined the rhythmic amplitude and period of real-time bioluminescence rhythms in explants of retina from Per1-, Per2-, Per3-, Cry1-, Cry2-, and Clock-deficient mice that carried transgenic PERIOD2::LUCIFERASE (PER2::LUC) or Period1::luciferase (Per1::luc) circadian reporters. Per1-, Cry1- and Clock-deficient retinal and SCN explants showed weakened or disrupted rhythms, with stronger effects in retina compared to SCN. Per2, Per3, and Cry2 were individually dispensable for sustained rhythms in both tissues. Retinal and SCN explants from double knockouts of Cry1 and Cry2 were arrhythmic. Gene effects on period were divergent with reduction in the number of Per1 alleles shortening circadian period in retina, but lengthening it in SCN, and knockout of Per3 substantially shortening retinal clock period, but leaving SCN unaffected. Thus, the retinal neural clock has a unique pattern of clock gene dependence at the tissue level that it is similar in pattern, but more severe in degree, than the SCN neural clock, with divergent clock gene regulation of rhythmic period.

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