Daily rhythms of behaviors and physiologies are generated by the circadian clock, which is composed of clock genes and the encoded proteins forming transcriptional/translational feedback loops (TTFLs). The circadian clock is a self-sustained oscillator and flexibly responds to various time cues to synchronize with environmental 24-h cycles. However, the key molecule that transmits cellular stress to the circadian clockwork is unknown. Here we identified apoptosis signal-regulating kinase (ASK), a member of the MAPKKK family, as an essential mediator determining the circadian period and phase of cultured cells in response to osmotic changes of the medium. The physiological impact of ASK signaling was demonstrated by a response of the clock to changes in intracellular redox states. Intriguingly, the TTFLs drive rhythmic expression of Ask genes, indicating ASK-mediated association of the TTFLs with intracellular redox. In behavioral analysis, Ask1, Ask2, and Ask3 triple-KO mice exhibited compromised light responses of the circadian period and phase in their activity rhythms. LC-MS/MS-based proteomic analysis identified a series of ASK-dependent and osmotic stress-responsive phosphorylations of proteins, among which CLOCK, a key component of the molecular clockwork, was phosphorylated at Thr843 or Ser845 in the carboxyl-terminal region. These findings reveal the ASK-dependent stress response as an underlying mechanism of circadian clock flexibility.
Keywords: apoptosis signal-regulating kinase; cellular stress; circadian; phosphorylation; redox.
Copyright © 2018 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.