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Bacterial circadian rhythm

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Bacterial circadian rhythms, like other circadian rhythms, are endogenous "biological clocks" that have the following three characteristics: (a) in constant conditions (i.e. constant temperature and either constant light {LL} or constant darkness {DD}) they oscillate with a period that is close to, but not exactly, 24 hours in duration, (b) this "free-running" rhythm is temperature compensated, and (c) the rhythm will entrain to an appropriate environmental cycle.

Until the mid-1980s, it was thought that only eukaryotic cells had circadian rhythms. It is now known that cyanobacteria (a phylum of photosynthetic eubacteria) have well-documented circadian rhythms that meet all the criteria of bona fide circadian rhythms. In these bacteria, three key proteins whose structures have been determined can form a molecular clockwork that orchestrates global gene expression. This system enhances the fitness of cyanobacteria in rhythmic environments.


History: are prokaryotes capable of circadian rhythmicity?Edit

Before the mid-1980s, it was believed that only eukaryotes had circadian systems.[1] The conclusion that only eukaryotes have circadian oscillators seemed reasonable, because it was assumed that an endogenous timekeeper with a period close to 24 hours would not be useful to prokaryotic organisms that often divide more rapidly than once every 24 hours. The assumption might be stated as, "why have a timer for a cycle that is longer than your lifetime?" While intuitive, the conclusion was flawed. It was based on the assumption that a bacterial cell is equivalent to a sexually reproducing multicellular organism. However, a bacterial culture is more like a mass of protoplasm that grows larger and larger and incidentally subdivides. From this perspective, it is reasonable that a 24-hour temporal program could be adaptive to a rapidly dividing protoplasm if the fitness of that protoplasm changes as a function of daily alterations in the environment (light intensity, temperature, etc.).

In 1985–86, several research groups discovered that cyanobacteria display daily rhythms of nitrogen fixation in both light/dark (LD) cycles and in constant light. The group of Huang and co-workers was the first to recognize clearly that the cyanobacterium Synechococcus sp. RF-1 was exhibiting circadian rhythms, and in a series of publications beginning in 1986 demonstrated all three of the salient characteristics of circadian rhythms described above in the same organism, the unicellular freshwater Synechococcus sp. RF-1.[2][3] Another ground-breaking study was that of Sweeney and Borgese,[4] who were the first to demonstrate temperature compensation of a daily rhythm in the marine cyanobacterium, Synechococcus WH7803.

Inspired by the research of the aforementioned pioneers, the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus was genetically transformed with a luciferase reporter that allowed rhythmic gene expression to be assayed non-invasively as rhythmically "glowing" cells.[5][6] This system allowed an exquisitely precise circadian rhythm of luminescence to be measured from cell populations[5] and even from single cyanobacterial cells.[7] The luminescence rhythms expressed by these transformed S. elongatus fulfilled all three key criteria of circadian rhythms: persistence of a 24-hour oscillation in constant conditions, temperature compensation, and entrainment. Thus, the work with various Synechococcus species firmly established that prokaryotic bacteria are capable of circadian rhythmicity, displacing the prior "no circadian clocks in prokaryotes" dogma. Nevertheless, persuasive evidence for circadian programs in bacteria other than the cyanobacteria is still lacking.

Relationship to cell divisionEdit

Despite predictions that circadian clocks would not be expressed by cells that are doubling faster than once per 24 hours,[8] the cyanobacterial rhythms continue in cultures that are growing with doubling times as rapid as one division every 5–6 hours.[9][10][11] Apparently cyanobacteria are able to simultaneously and accurately keep track of two timing processes that express significantly different periods.

Adaptive significanceEdit

Do circadian timekeepers enhance the fitness of organisms growing under natural conditions? Despite the expectation that circadian clocks are usually assumed to enhance the fitness of organisms by improving their ability to adapt to daily cycles in environmental factors, there have been few rigorous tests of that proposition in any organism. Cyanobacteria are one of the few organisms in which such a test has been performed. The adaptive fitness test was done by mixing cyanobacterial strains that express different circadian properties (i.e., rhythmicity vs. arhythmicity, different periods, etc.) and growing them in competition under different environmental conditions. The idea was to determine if having an appropriately functional clock system enhances fitness under competitive conditions. The result was that strains with a functioning biological clock out-compete arhythmic strains in environments that have a rhythmic light/dark cycle (e.g., 12 hours of light alternating with 12 hours of darkness), whereas in "constant" environments (e.g., constant illumination) rhythmic and arhythmic strains grow at comparable rates.[12] Among rhythmic strains with different periods, the strains whose endogenous period most closely matches the period of the environmental cycle is able to out-compete strains whose period does not match that of the environment.[13] Therefore, in rhythmic environments, the fitness of cyanobacteria is improved when the clock is operational and when its circadian period is similar to the period of the environmental cycle. These were among the first rigorous demonstrations in any organism of a fitness advantage conferred by a circadian system.

When researchers believed that prokaryotes were too "simple" to have circadian timekeepers, it had seemed reasonable that evolutionary selection for circadian organization would occur only if the generation time of the cells were as long or longer than a day. The data from cyanobacteria, however, suggest that the benefits of having a daily clock can potentially accrue to all organisms, even if they divide more rapidly than once a day.

Global regulation of gene expression and chromosomal topologyEdit

In eukaryotes, about 10–20% of the genes are rhythmically expressed (as gauged by rhythms of mRNA abundance). However, in cyanobacteria, a much larger percentage of genes are controlled by the circadian clock. For example, one study has shown that the activity of essentially all promoters are rhythmically regulated.[14] The mechanism by which this global gene regulation is mechanistically linked to the circadian clock is not known, but it may be related to rhythmic changes in the topology of the entire cyanobacterial chromosome.[15][16]

Molecular mechanism of the cyanobacterial clockworkEdit

The S. elongatus luciferase reporter system was used to screen for clock gene mutants, of which many were isolated.[17] These mutants were used to identify a gene cluster composed of three genes, named kaiA, kaiB and kaiC; (Ishiura et al., 1998; "kai" means "rotation" or "cycle number" in Japanese). These genes encode the proteins KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC], which are essential for clock function in S. elongatus and constitute a core circadian oscillator. No significant similarity was found among the kai genes and any other previously reported genes in eukaryotes, but there are potential homologs in the genomic sequences of other bacteria (both eubacteria and archaea).

At first, the cyanobacterial clockwork appeared to be a transcription and translation feedback loop in which clock proteins autoregulate the activity of their own promoters by a process that was similar in concept to the circadian clock loops of eukaryotes.[18][19] Subsequently, however, several lines of evidence indicated that transcription and translation was not necessary for circadian rhythms of Kai proteins,[20][21][22] the most spectacular being that the three purified Kai proteins can reconstitute a temperature-compensated circadian oscillation in a test tube.[23] The rhythm that is measurable in vitro is the phosphorylation status of the clock protein KaiC. This is the first (and so far, only) example of the reconstitution of a circadian clock in vitro.

Visualizing the clockwork's "gears": structural biology of clock proteinsEdit

Clock Protein KaiC hexamer, Synechococcus sp.

The cyanobacterial circadian system is so far unique in that it is the only circadian system in which the structures of full-length clock proteins have been solved. In fact, the structures of all three of the Kai proteins have been determined. KaiC forms a hexamer that resembles a double doughnut with a central pore that is partially sealed at one end.[24] There are twelve ATP-binding sites in KaiC and the residues that are phosphorylated during the in vitro phosphorylation rhythm have been identified.[25][26] KaiA has two major domains and forms dimers in which the N-terminal domains are "swapped" with the C-terminal domains.[27][28] KaiB has been successfully crystallized from three different species of cyanobacteria and forms dimers or tetramers.[29][30]

The three-dimensional structures have been helpful in elucidating the cyanobacterial clock mechanism by providing concrete models for the ways in which the three Kai proteins interact and influence each other.[24][28][29][31][32][33][34] The structural approaches have also allowed the KaiA/KaiB/KaiC complexes to be visualized as a function of time, which enabled sophisticated mathematical modeling of the in vitro phosphorylation rhythm.[35] Therefore, the cyanobacterial clock components and their interactions can be visualized in four dimensions (three in space, one in time). In the presence of ATP, the three Kai protein core pacemaker can reconstitute an oscillator in vitro and functions as a posttranslational oscillator in vivo. In in vitro studies, the KaiABC system undergoes circadian changes in KaiC’s phosphorylation status that accompany the formation of complexes to entail ATP hydrolysis. KaiC hydrolyses ATP which is reaction that serves an an intrinsic internal timer. KaiC can only hydrolyze 15 ATP a day, which allows for the efficiency of the metabolic processes to be measured. The status of KaiC phosphorylation feeds back to regulate the hydrolysis of ATP and the switching of KaiABC complex from being phosphorylated and dephosphorylated. This means that the phosphorylation of KaiC serves as both the circadian marker and regulator of ATPase.

Circadian AdvantageEdit

In the context of bacterial circadian rhythms, specifically in cyanobacteria, circadian advantage refers to the improved survival of strains of cyanobacteria that "resonate" with the environmental circadian rhythm. [6] For example, consider a strain with a free-running period (FRP) of 24 hours is co-cultured with a strain that has a free-running period (FRP) of 30 hours in a light-dark cycle of 12 hours light and 12 hours dark (LD 12:12). The strain that has a 24 hour FRP will out-compete the 30 hour strain over time. An instance where bacterial circadian rhythms are theorized to provide an advantage is in the microbiome. It is possible that circadian clocks play a role in the gut microbiota behavior. These microorganisms experience daily changes associated with daily LD and temperature cycles through an alteration of their environment. This occurs through behaviors such as eating rhythms on a daily routine (consumption in the day for diurnal animals and in the night for nocturnal). The presence of a daily timekeeper might give those bacteria a competitive advantage over others, allowing them to anticipate resources coming from the host in order to metabolize them faster. There are bacteria that exist which have daily timekeepers, and it may be possible that the microbiota have endogenous clocks and which communicate with biological clocks of the host. If there are some time-keeping qualities of the microorganisms of the intestines, it might be possible that they can affect the circadian system of the host. For example, if bacteria within the microbiome release cytokine-like factors in a rhythmic fashion, the host’s clock might be affected. On the other hand, it is implicated that changes to the host’s biological clock may alter the gut microbiome. More specifically, jet-lag induced disruption of the biological clock influences the daily pattern of phyla change. Also, specific diets (such as time-restricted feeding and transitions between regular and high fat diet) change both the host’s circadian clock as well as the composition of the gut microbiome. An endogenous clock may be present in some microbial species, and the presence of such an intrinsic timekeeper could be beneficial both in the gut (which experiences daily changes in nutrient availability) and the environment outside of the host (which experiences daily cycles of light and temperature).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Johnson, C.H., S.S. Golden, M. Ishiura, and T. Kondo (1996) Circadian clocks in prokaryotes. Mole. Microbiol. 21: 5–11.
  2. ^ Huang T-C and Grobbelaar N (1995) The circadian clock in the prokaryote Synechococcus RF-1. Microbiology 141: 535–540.
  3. ^ Lin R-F, and Huang, T-C (2009) Circadian rhythm of Cyanothece RF-1 (Synechococcus RF-1). Chapter 3 in: Bacterial Circadian Programs, J.L. Ditty, S.R. Mackey, C.H. Johnson, eds. (Springer), pp. 39–61.
  4. ^ Sweeney BM, and Borgese MB (1989) A circadian rhythm in cell division in a prokaryote, the cyanobacterium Synechococcus WH7803. J. Phycol. 25: 183–186.
  5. ^ a b Kondo, T., Strayer, C.A., Kulkarni, R.D., Taylor, W., Ishiura, M., Golden, S.S., and Johnson, C.H. (1993). Circadian rhythms in prokaryotes: luciferase as a reporter of circadian gene expression in cyanobacteria. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 90, 5672–5676.
  6. ^ Johnson, C.H., and Y. Xu (2009) The Decade of Discovery: How Synechococcus elongatus became a model circadian system 1990–2000. Chapter 4 in: Bacterial Circadian Programs, J.L. Ditty, S.R. Mackey, C.H. Johnson, eds. (Springer), pp. 63–86.
  7. ^ Mihalcescu, I., Hsing, W., and Leibler, S. (2004). Resilient circadian oscillator revealed in individual cyanobacteria. Nature 430, 81–85.
  8. ^ Pittendrigh, C.S. (1993). Temporal organization: reflections of a Darwinian clock-watcher. Annu. Rev. Physiol. 55, 17–54.
  9. ^ Mori, T., Binder, B., and Johnson, C.H. (1996) Circadian gating of cell division in cyanobacteria growing with average doubling times of less than 24 hours. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 93, 10183–10188.
  10. ^ Kondo, T., Mori, T., Lebedeva, N.V., Aoki, S., Ishiura, M., and Golden, S.S. (1997). Circadian rhythms in rapidly dividing cyanobacteria. Science 275, 224–227.
  11. ^ Mori, T., and Johnson, C.H. (2001). Independence of circadian timing from cell division in cyanobacteria. J Bacteriol. 183, 2439–2444.
  12. ^ Woelfle, M.A., Ouyang, Y., Phanvijhitsiri, K., and Johnson, C.H. (2004). The adaptive value of circadian clocks: An experimental assessment in cyanobacteria. Current Biol. 14, 1481–1486.
  13. ^ Ouyang, Y., Andersson, C.R., Kondo T., Golden S.S., and Johnson C.H. (1998). Resonating circadian clocks enhance fitness in cyanobacteria. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95, 8660–8664.
  14. ^ Liu, Y., Tsinoremas, N.F., Johnson, C.H., Lebedeva, N.V., Golden, S.S., Ishiura, M., and Kondo, T. (1995). Circadian orchestration of gene expression in cyanobacteria. Genes Dev. 9, 1469–1478.
  15. ^ Smith, R.M., and Williams, S.B. (2006). Circadian rhythms in gene transcription imparted by chromosome compaction in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 103, 8564–8569.
  16. ^ Woelfle, M.A., Xu, Y., Qin, X., and Johnson, C.H. (2007). Circadian rhythms of superhelical status of DNA in cyanobacteria. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 104, 18819–18824.
  17. ^ Kondo, T., N.F. Tsinoremas, S.S. Golden, C.H. Johnson, S. Kutsuna, and M. Ishiura (1994) Circadian clock mutants of cyanobacteria. Science 266: 1233–1236.
  18. ^ Ishiura, M., Kutsuna, S., Aoki, S., Iwasaki, H., Andersson, C.R., Tanabe, A., Golden, S.S., Johnson, C.H., and Kondo, T. (1998). Expression of a gene cluster kaiABC as a circadian feedback process in cyanobacteria. Science 281, 1519–1523.
  19. ^ Dunlap, J.C., Loros, J.J., and DeCoursey, P.J. (eds.) (2004). Chronobiology: Biological Timekeeping. Sinauer, Sunderland, MA.
  20. ^ Xu, Y., Mori, T., and Johnson, C.H. (2003). Cyanobacterial circadian clockwork: roles of KaiA, KaiB and the kaiBC promoter in regulating KaiC. EMBO J. 22, 2117–2126.
  21. ^ Nakahira, Y., Katayama, M., Miyashita, H., Kutsuna, S., Iwasaki, H., Oyama, T., and Kondo, T. (2004). Global gene repression by KaiC as a master process of prokaryotic circadian system. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 881–885.
  22. ^ Tomita, J., Nakajima, M., Kondo, T., and Iwasaki, H. (2005). No transcription-translation feedback in circadian rhythm of KaiC phosphorylation. Science 307, 251–254.
  23. ^ Nakajima, M., Imai, K., Ito, H., Nishiwaki, T., Murayama, Y., Iwasaki, H., Oyama, T., and Kondo, T. (2005). Reconstitution of circadian oscillation of cyanobacterial KaiC phosphorylation in vitro. Science 308, 414–415.
  24. ^ a b Pattanayek, R., Wang, J., Mori, T., Xu, Y., Johnson, C.H., and Egli, M. (2004). Visualizing a circadian clock protein: crystal structure of KaiC and functional insights. Mol. Cell 15, 375–388.
  25. ^ Xu, Y., Mori, T., Pattanayek, R., Pattanayek, S., Egli, M., and Johnson, C.H. (2004). Identification of key phosphorylation sites in the circadian clock protein KaiC by crystallographic and mutagenetic analyses. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 13933-13938.
  26. ^ Nishiwaki, T., Satomi, Y., Nakajima, M., Lee, C., Kiyohara, R., Kageyama, H., Kitayama, Y., Temamoto, M., Yamaguchi, A., Hijikata, A., Go, M., Iwasaki, H., Takao, T., and Kondo, T. (2004). Role of KaiC phosphorylation in the circadian clock system of Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 13927–13932.
  27. ^ Williams SB, Vakonakis I, Golden SS, LiWang AC (2002) Structure and function from the circadian clock protein KaiA of Synechococcus elongatus: a potential clock input mechanism. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99: 15357–62.
  28. ^ a b Ye, S., Vakonakis, I., Ioerger, T.R., LiWang, A.C., and Sacchettini J.C. (2004). Crystal structure of circadian clock protein KaiA from Synechococcus elongatus. J. Biol. Chem. 279, 20511–20518.
  29. ^ a b Garces R.G., Wu N., Gillon W., and Pai E.F. (2004). Anabaena circadian clock proteins KaiA and KaiB reveal potential common binding site to their partner KaiC. EMBO J. 23, 1688–1698.
  30. ^ Hitomi, K., Oyama, T., Han, S., Arvai, A.S., and Getzoff, E.D. (2005). Tetrameric architecture of the circadian clock protein KaiB. A novel interface for intermolecular interactions and its impact on the circadian rhythm. J. Biol. Chem. 280, 19127-19135.
  31. ^ Vakonakis, I., and LiWang, A.C. (2004). Structure of the C-terminal domain of the clock protein KaiA in complex with a KaiC-derived peptide: implications for KaiC regulation. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101: 10925–10930.
  32. ^ Pattanayek, R., Williams, D.R., Pattanayek, S., Xu, Y., Mori, T., Johnson, C.H., Stewart, P.L., and Egli, M. (2006). Analysis of KaiA-KaiC protein interactions in the cyano-bacterial circadian clock using hybrid structural methods. EMBO J. 25, 2017–2028.
  33. ^ Kim YI, Dong G, Carruthers CW Jr, Golden SS, LiWang A (2008) The day/night switch in KaiC, a central oscillator component of the circadian clock of cyanobacteria. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105: 12825–30.
  34. ^ Pattanayek, R, Williams, DR, Pattanayek, S, Mori, T, Johnson, CH, Stewart, PL, Egli, M. (2008) Structural model of the circadian clock KaiB-KaiC complex and mechanism for modulation of KaiC phosphorylation. EMBO J. 27: 1767–78.
  35. ^ Mori, T., D.R. Williams, M.O. Byrne, X. Qin, H.S. Mchaourab, M. Egli, P.L. Stewart, and C.H. Johnson (2007) Elucidating the Ticking of an in vitro Circadian Clockwork. PLoS Biology 5: e93.

Further readingEdit

  • Bacterial Circadian Programs, J.L. Ditty, S.R. Mackey, C.H. Johnson, eds. (2009)(Springer), 333 pages.
  • Dunlap JC, Loros J, DeCoursey PJ (2004) Chronobiology: Biological Timekeeping. (Sinauer, Sunderland)