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BACKGROUND: Molecular feedback loops involving transcription and translation and several key genes are at the core of circadian regulatory cycles affecting cellular pathways and metabolism. These cycles are active in most adult animal cells but little is known about their expression or influence during development. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: To determine if circadian cycles are active during mammalian development we measured the expression of key circadian genes during embryogenesis in mice using quantitative real-time RT-PCR. All of the genes examined were expressed in whole embryos beginning at the earliest age examined, embryonic day 10. In contrast to adult tissues, circadian variation was absent for all genes at all of the embryonic ages examined in either whole embryos or individual tissues. Using a bioluminescent fusion protein that tracks translation of the circadian gene, per2, we also analyzed protein levels. Similar to mRNA, a protein rhythm was observed in adult tissue but not in embryonic tissues collected in-vivo. In contrast, when tissues were placed in culture for the continuous assay of bioluminescence, rhythms were observed in embryonic (E18) tissues. We found that placing embryonic tissues in culture set the timing (phase) of these rhythms, suggesting the importance of a synchronizing signal for the expression of circadian cycles in developing tissues. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: These results show that embryonic tissues express key circadian genes and have the capacity to express active circadian regulatory cycles. In vivo, circadian cycles are not expressed in embryonic tissues as they are in adult tissues. Individual cells might express oscillations, but are not synchronized until later in development.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Animals, Circadian Rhythm, Developmental Biology, Female, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Kidney, Liver, Male, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Myocardium, Oscillometry, Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction, Time Factors, Tissue Distribution