Keeping track of time: The fundamentals of cellular clocks

J Cell Biol. 2020 Nov 2;219(11):e202005136. doi: 10.1083/jcb.202005136.


Biological timekeeping enables the coordination and execution of complex cellular processes such as developmental programs, day/night organismal changes, intercellular signaling, and proliferative safeguards. While these systems are often considered separately owing to a wide variety of mechanisms, time frames, and outputs, all clocks are built by calibrating or delaying the rate of biochemical reactions and processes. In this review, we explore the common themes and core design principles of cellular clocks, giving special consideration to the challenges associated with building timers from biochemical components. We also outline how evolution has coopted time to increase the reliability of a diverse range of biological systems.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • Circadian Clocks*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Signal Transduction