Coupling between cell-autonomous circadian oscillators is crucial to prevent desynchronization of cellular networks and disruption of circadian tissue functions. While neuronal oscillators within the mammalian central clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, couple intercellularly, coupling among peripheral oscillators is controversial and the molecular mechanisms are unknown. Using two- and three-dimensional mammalian culture models in vitro (mainly human U-2 OS cells) and ex vivo, we show that peripheral oscillators couple via paracrine pathways. We identify transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) as peripheral coupling factor that mediates paracrine phase adjustment of molecular clocks through transcriptional regulation of core-clock genes. Disruption of TGF-β signaling causes desynchronization of oscillator networks resulting in reduced amplitude and increased sensitivity toward external zeitgebers. Our findings reveal an unknown mechanism for peripheral clock synchrony with implications for rhythmic organ functions and circadian health.
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