A Systems Biology Approach Identifies Hidden Regulatory Connections Between the Circadian and Cell-Cycle Checkpoints

Front Physiol. 2020 Apr 16;11:327. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2020.00327. eCollection 2020.


Circadian rhythms form a self-sustaining, endogenous, time-keeping system that allows organisms to anticipate daily environmental changes. The core of the clock network consists of interlocking transcriptional-translational feedback loops that ensures that metabolic, behavioral, and physiological processes run on a 24 h timescale. The hierarchical nature of the clock manifests itself in multiple points of control on the daily cell division cycle, which relies on synthesis, degradation, and post-translational modification for progression. This relationship is particularly important for understanding the role of clock components in sensing stress conditions and triggering checkpoint signals that stop cell cycle progression. A case in point is the interplay among the circadian factor PERIOD2 (PER2), the tumor suppressor p53, and the oncogenic mouse double minute-2 homolog protein (MDM2), which is the p53's negative regulator. Under unstressed conditions, PER2 and p53 form a stable complex in the cytosol and, along with MDM2, a trimeric complex in the nucleus. Association of PER2 to the C-terminus end of p53 prevents MDM2-mediated ubiquitylation and degradation of p53 as well as p53's transcriptional activation. Remarkably, when not bound to p53, PER2 acts as substrate for the E3-ligase activity of MDM2; thus, PER2 is degraded in a phosphorylation-independent fashion. Unexpectedly, the phase relationship between PER2 and p53 are opposite; however, a systematic modeling approach, inferred from the oscillatory time course data of PER2 and p53, aided in identifying additional regulatory scenarios that explained, a priori, seemingly conflicting experimental data. Therefore, we advocate for a combined experimental/mathematical approach to elucidating multilevel regulatory cellular processes.

Keywords: checkpoint signaling; circadian rhythms; clock genes; mathematical modeling; p53; systematic approach; tumor suppressor.

Publication types

  • Review