Physiological processes such as the sleep-wake cycle, metabolism and hormone secretion are controlled by a circadian rhythm adapted to 24h day-night periodicity. This circadian synchronisation is in part controlled by ambient light decreasing melatonin secretion by the pineal gland and co-ordinated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. Peripheral cell autonomous circadian clocks controlled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the master regulator, exist within every cell of the body and are comprised of at least twelve genes. These include the basic helix-loop-helix/PAS domain containing transcription factors; Clock, BMal1 and Npas2 which activate transcription of the periodic genes (Per1 and Per2) and cryptochrome genes (Cry1 and Cry2). Points of coupling exist between the cellular clock and the cell cycle. Cell cycle genes which are affected by the molecular circadian clock include c-Myc, Wee1, cyclin D and p21. Therefore the rhythm of the circadian clock and cancer are interlinked. Molecular examples exist including activation of Per2 leads to c-myc overexpression and an increased tumor incidence. Mice with mutations in Cryptochrome 1 and 2 are arrhythmic (lack a circadian rhythm) and arrhythmic mice have a faster rate of growth of implanted tumors. Epidemiological finding of relevance include 'The Nurses' Health Study' where it was established that women working rotational night shifts have an increased incidence of breast cancer. Compounds that affect circadian rhythm exist with attendant future therapeutic possibilities. These include casein kinase I inhibitors and a candidate small molecule KL001 that affects the degradation of cryptochrome. Theoretically the cell cycle and malignant disease may be targeted vicariously by selective alteration of the cellular molecular clock.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Casein kinase I; Circadian clocks; Shift-work; Supra-chiasmatic nucleus.
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