Entrainment of breast (cancer) epithelial cells detects distinct circadian oscillation patterns for clock and hormone receptor genes

Cell Cycle. 2012 Jan 15;11(2):350-60. doi: 10.4161/cc.11.2.18792. Epub 2012 Jan 15.


Most physiological and biological processes are regulated by endogenous circadian rhythms under the control of both a master clock, which acts systemically and individual cellular clocks, which act at the single cell level. The cellular clock is based on a network of core clock genes, which drive the circadian expression of non-clock genes involved in many cellular processes. Circadian deregulation of gene expression has emerged to be as important as deregulation of estrogen signaling in breast tumorigenesis. Whether there is a mutual deregulation of circadian and hormone signaling is the question that we address in this study. Here we show that, upon entrainment by serum shock, cultured human mammary epithelial cells maintain an inner circadian oscillator, with key clock genes oscillating in a circadian fashion. In the same cells, the expression of the estrogen receptor α (ER A) gene also oscillates in a circadian fashion. In contrast, ER A-positive and -negative breast cancer epithelial cells show disruption of the inner clock. Further, ER A-positive breast cancer cells do not display circadian oscillation of ER A expression. Our findings suggest that estrogen signaling could be affected not only in ER A-negative breast cancer, but also in ER A-positive breast cancer due to lack of circadian availability of ER A. Entrainment of the inner clock of breast epithelial cells, by taking into consideration the biological time component, provides a novel tool to test mechanistically whether defective circadian mechanisms can affect hormone signaling relevant to breast cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Circadian Rhythm Signaling Peptides and Proteins / genetics
  • Circadian Rhythm Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / physiology*
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / genetics
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha / metabolism*
  • Estrogens / metabolism
  • Estrogens / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Circadian Rhythm Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • ESR1 protein, human
  • Estrogen Receptor alpha
  • Estrogens