Bioluminescence imaging of individual fibroblasts reveals persistent, independently phased circadian rhythms of clock gene expression

Curr Biol. 2004 Dec 29;14(24):2289-95. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2004.11.057.


Circadian (ca. 24 hr) oscillations in expression of mammalian "clock genes" are found not only in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the central circadian pacemaker, but also in peripheral tissues. Under constant conditions in vitro, however, rhythms of peripheral tissue explants or immortalized cells damp partially or completely. It is unknown whether this reflects an inability of peripheral cells to sustain rhythms, as SCN neurons can, or a loss of synchrony among cells. Using bioluminescence imaging of Rat-1 fibroblasts transfected with a Bmal1::luc plasmid and primary fibroblasts dissociated from mPer2(Luciferase-SV40) knockin mice, we monitored single-cell circadian rhythms of clock gene expression for 1-2 weeks. We found that single fibroblasts can oscillate robustly and independently with undiminished amplitude and diverse circadian periods. Cells were partially synchronized by medium changes at the start of an experiment, but due to different intrinsic periods, their phases became randomly distributed after several days. Closely spaced cells in the same culture did not have similar phases, implying a lack of functional coupling among cells. Thus, like SCN neurons, single fibroblasts can function as independent circadian oscillators; however, lack of oscillator coupling in dissociated cell cultures leads to a loss of synchrony among individual cells and damping of the ensemble rhythm at the population level.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CLOCK Proteins
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • DNA Primers
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Luciferases
  • Mice
  • Mice, Mutant Strains
  • Oscillometry
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • Trans-Activators / metabolism*


  • DNA Primers
  • Trans-Activators
  • Luciferases
  • CLOCK Proteins
  • Clock protein, mouse
  • Clock protein, rat