Entrainment of the circadian clock in the liver by feeding

Science. 2001 Jan 19;291(5503):490-3. doi: 10.1126/science.291.5503.490.


Circadian rhythms of behavior are driven by oscillators in the brain that are coupled to the environmental light cycle. Circadian rhythms of gene expression occur widely in peripheral organs. It is unclear how these multiple rhythms are coupled together to form a coherent system. To study such coupling, we investigated the effects of cycles of food availability (which exert powerful entraining effects on behavior) on the rhythms of gene expression in the liver, lung, and suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). We used a transgenic rat model whose tissues express luciferase in vitro. Although rhythmicity in the SCN remained phase-locked to the light-dark cycle, restricted feeding rapidly entrained the liver, shifting its rhythm by 10 hours within 2 days. Our results demonstrate that feeding cycles can entrain the liver independently of the SCN and the light cycle, and they suggest the need to reexamine the mammalian circadian hierarchy. They also raise the possibility that peripheral circadian oscillators like those in the liver may be coupled to the SCN primarily through rhythmic behavior, such as feeding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Corticosterone / blood
  • Corticosterone / pharmacology
  • Culture Techniques
  • Eating
  • Female
  • Food*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Liver / physiology*
  • Luciferases / genetics
  • Lung / physiology
  • Male
  • Motor Activity
  • Organ Specificity
  • Rats
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology


  • Luciferases
  • Corticosterone