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J Biol Rhythms. 1999 Jun;14(3):213-20.

A model of molecular circadian clocks: multiple mechanisms for phase shifting and a requirement for strong nonlinear interactions.

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Graduate School Neurosciences Amsterdam, Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, The Netherlands.


A fundamental question in the field of circadian rhythms concerns the biochemical and molecular nature of the oscillator. There is strong evidence that circadian oscillators are cell autonomous and rely on periodic gene expression. In Drosophila, Neurospora, Aplysia, and vertebrates, circadian oscillators are thought to be based on molecular autoregulatory loops composed of transcription, translation, and negative feedback by proteins on nuclear transcription. By studying a mathematical model of molecular clocks based on this general concept, the authors sought to determine which features such clocks must have to generate robust and stable oscillations and to allow entrainment by external stimuli such as light. The model produced circadian oscillations as an emergent property even though a time delay in protein synthesis and rate constants of the feedback loop were much shorter than 24 h. Along with the delay in protein production, strong nonlinear interactions in macromolecular synthesis and nuclear feedback appeared to be required for the model to show well-behaved oscillatory behavior. Realistic phase-shifting patterns induced by external stimuli could be achieved by multiple mechanisms-namely, up- and downward perturbations of protein or mRNA synthesis or degradation rates. The model makes testable predictions about interactions between clock elements and mechanisms of entrainment and may help to understand the functions of the intricate molecular interactions governing circadian rhythmogenesis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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