Evolution of the repression mechanisms in circadian clocks

Genome Biol. 2022 Jan 10;23(1):17. doi: 10.1186/s13059-021-02571-0.


Background: Circadian (daily) timekeeping is essential to the survival of many organisms. An integral part of all circadian timekeeping systems is negative feedback between an activator and repressor. However, the role of this feedback varies widely between lower and higher organisms.

Results: Here, we study repression mechanisms in the cyanobacterial and eukaryotic clocks through mathematical modeling and systems analysis. We find a common mathematical model that describes the mechanism by which organisms generate rhythms; however, transcription's role in this has diverged. In cyanobacteria, protein sequestration and phosphorylation generate and regulate rhythms while transcription regulation keeps proteins in proper stoichiometric balance. Based on recent experimental work, we propose a repressor phospholock mechanism that models the negative feedback through transcription in clocks of higher organisms. Interestingly, this model, when coupled with activator phosphorylation, allows for oscillations over a wide range of protein stoichiometries, thereby reconciling the negative feedback mechanism in Neurospora with that in mammals and cyanobacteria.

Conclusions: Taken together, these results paint a picture of how circadian timekeeping may have evolved.

Keywords: Circadian clocks; Evolution; Phosphorylation; Protein sequestration; Transcription.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks* / genetics
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Cyanobacteria* / genetics
  • Cyanobacteria* / metabolism
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism


  • Transcription Factors