The Clock That Rules Your Body… and Controls Circadian Rhythms



UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have taken a major step
toward understanding the cellular clock, mapping for the first time the
atomic-level architecture of a key component of the timekeeper that
governs the body’s daily rhythms. ~ Alton Parrish

The daily, or circadian, cycles guided by the body’s clocks affect our
ability to get a good night’s sleep, how fast we recover from jet lag,
and even the best time to give cancer treatments, said Dr. Joseph Takahashi, senior author of theScience study published online and a pioneer in the study of circadian rhythms.

The CLOCK: BMAL1 transcriptional activator complex

Atomic-level images of the CLOCK:BMAL1 transcriptional activator complex

Courtesy of Joseph Takahashi

Understanding the structure of the cellular clock could lead to better treatments for insomnia, diabetes, and even cancer.

“The clock is found in virtually every cell of the body, and is
important for controlling many different metabolic functions,” said Dr.
Takahashi, chairman of neuroscience and a Howard Hughes Medical
Institute (HHMI) investigator at UT Southwestern.

Mapping the 3-D structure of the key component in the cellular clock –
called the CLOCK: BMAL1 transcriptional activator complex – will have a
great impact on the study of circadian rhythms and in other areas like
toxicology and the growth of nerve cells, in which proteins in the same
family play central roles, he said.

“Ultimately, we have to go to the atomic level to really understand how these proteins work” Dr. Takahashi said.

The Takahashi laboratory has spent years determining the 3-D structure
of the CLOCK: BMAL1 complex using X-ray crystallography. The breakthrough
came in the spring of 2011 when Yogarany Chelliah, an HHMI research
specialist at UT Southwestern, was able to crystallize the proteins. The
structure was determined in collaboration with Dr. Hong Zhang, associate professor of biochemistry.

Researchers led by Dr. Joseph Takahashi (right) and Yogarany Chelliah, a
Howard Hughes Medical Institute research specialist, have mapped for
the first time the atomic-level architecture of the body’s timekeeper
that governs daily rhythms.


Dr. Joseph Takahashi 

UT Southwestern

The researchers found that the CLOCK protein is tightly wrapped around
the BMAL1 protein in an unusually asymmetrical fashion. They identified
three distinct areas for interactions between CLOCK and BMAL1 as well as
regions for interactions with other molecules that might affect the
cellular clock by changing the sleep-wake cycle or other body processes
that depend on circadian rhythm, he said.

Dr. Takahashi’s research on the subject goes back almost 20 years.
That’s when he began a behavioral study of mice looking for those
animals in which their biological clocks seemed out of sync. After
screening hundreds of mice, his laboratory in 1994 identified one mutant
mouse whose daily cycle was four hours longer than normal. He named
that mouse the Clock mutant.

Dr. Takahashi then used that mouse to identify the world’s first
circadian rhythm gene in a mammal. Researchers in his laboratory cloned
the Clock gene in 1997. In 1998, they discovered that the CLOCK protein
worked in concert with the BMAL1 protein in a study done in
collaboration with Dr. Charles Weitz at Harvard Medical School.

Two years ago, Dr. Takahashi’s team – in collaboration with Dr. Joseph
T. Bass at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in
Chicago – reported in Nature that disruptions in the Clock and Bmal1
genes in mice can alter the release of insulin by the pancreas, which
results in diabetes.

“We started on this path a long time ago, and it actually began with a
mouse, which then allowed us to find the Clockgene, and then from this
gene we now see the proteins from their crystal structure,” Dr.
Takahashi said. “For that to all happen after such a long quest is
particularly satisfying.”

Other UT Southwestern researchers involved in the study include Nian
Huang, postdoctoral researcher in biochemistry; Dr. Yongli Shan,
postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience; Clinton A. Taylor, student
research assistant; Dr. Seung-Hee Yoo, instructor of neuroscience; and Dr. Carla Green,
professor of neuroscience. Dr. Carrie Partch – a former postdoctoral
researcher in biochemistry, neuroscience, and the HHMI – is now an
assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz.

This work was supported by the HHMI, the American Heart Association, and the National Institutes of Health.


Alton Parrish – June 6, 2012 – posted at BeforeIt’sNews


Contacts and sources:

 UT Southwestern 



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