Sex difference in daily rhythms of clock gene expression in the aged human cerebral cortex

J Biol Rhythms. 2013 Apr;28(2):117-29. doi: 10.1177/0748730413478552.


Studies using self-report and physiological markers of circadian rhythmicity have demonstrated sex differences in a number of circadian attributes including morningness-eveningness, entrained phase, and intrinsic period. However, these sex differences have not been examined at the level of the molecular clock and not in human cerebral cortex. The authors tested the hypothesis that there are detectable daily rhythms of clock gene expression in human cerebral cortex and that there are significant sex differences in the timing of these rhythms. The expression levels of 3 clock genes-PER2, PER3, and ARNTL1-were quantified in samples of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex from 490 deceased individuals in 2 cohort studies of older individuals, the Religious Orders Study and the Rush Memory and Aging Project, using mRNA microarray data. Clock gene expression at death was parameterized as a function of time of death using cosine curves and was examined for sex differences in the phase of these curves. Significant daily variation was seen in the expression of PER2 (p = 0.004), PER3 (p = 0.003), and ARNTL1 (p = 0.0005). PER2/3 expression peaked at 10:38 (95% confidence interval [CI], 09:20-11:56) and 10:44 (95% CI, 09:29-11:59), respectively, and ARNTL1 expression peaked in antiphase to this at 21:23 (95% CI, 20:16-22:30). The timing of the expression of all 3 genes was significantly earlier in women than in men (PER2 6.8 h, p = 0.002; PER3 5.5 h, p = 0.001; ARNTL1 4.7 h, p = 0.007). Daily rhythms of clock gene expression are present in human cerebral cortex and can be inferred from postmortem samples. Moreover, these rhythms are relatively delayed in men compared with women.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • ARNTL Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • CLOCK Proteins / genetics
  • CLOCK Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Period Circadian Proteins / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Time Factors


  • ARNTL Transcription Factors
  • PER2 protein, human
  • PER3 protein, human
  • Period Circadian Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • CLOCK Proteins