Sex-dependent circadian alterations of both central and peripheral clock genes expression and gut-microbiota composition during activity-based anorexia in mice

Biol Sex Differ. 2024 Jan 12;15(1):6. doi: 10.1186/s13293-023-00576-x.


Rationale: Patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) often present sleep disorders and circadian hormonal dysregulation. The role of the microbiota-gut-brain axis in the regulation of feeding behavior has emerged during the last decades but its relationships with the circadian rhythm remains poorly documented. Thus, we aimed to characterize the circadian clock genes expression in peripheral and central tissues in the activity-based anorexia mouse model (ABA), as well as the dynamics of the gut-microbiota composition.

Methods: From day 1 to day 17, male and female C57Bl/6 mice were submitted or not to the ABA protocol (ABA and control (CT) groups), which combines a progressive limited access to food and a free access to a running wheel. At day 17, fasted CT and ABA mice were euthanized after either resting (EoR) or activity (EoA) phase (n = 10-12 per group). Circadian clock genes expression was assessed by RT-qPCR on peripheral (liver, colon and ileum) and central (hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus or SCN) tissues. Cecal bacterial taxa abundances were evaluated by qPCR. Data were compared by two-way ANOVA followed by post-tests.

Results: ABA mice exhibited a lower food intake, a body weight loss and an increase of diurnal physical activity that differ according with the sex. Interestingly, in the SCN, only ABA female mice exhibited altered circadian clock genes expression (Bmal1, Per1, Per2, Cry1, Cry2). In the intestinal tract, modification of clock genes expression was also more marked in females compared to males. For instance, in the ileum, female mice showed alteration of Bmal1, Clock, Per1, Per2, Cry1, Cry2 and Rev-erbα mRNA levels, while only Per2 and Cry1 mRNAs were affected by ABA model in males. By contrast, in the liver, clock genes expression was more markedly affected in males compared to females in response to ABA. Finally, circadian variations of gut-bacteria abundances were observed in both male and female mice and sex-dependent alteration were observed in response to the ABA model.

Conclusions: This study shows that alteration of circadian clock genes expression at both peripheral and central levels occurs in response to the ABA model. In addition, our data underline that circadian variations of the gut-microbiota composition are sex-dependent.

Plain language summary

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder with a female predominance. However, the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms are still incompletely understood. Patients with anorexia nervosa often show alterations in circadian rhythm, including sleep disorders and modifications in hormone circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is controlled in the central nervous system, particularly in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, but clocks have also been described in peripheral tissues. To better understand the putative role of circadian rhythm in the pathophysiology of anorexia nervosa, we have conducted an experimental study in a rodent model of anorexia nervosa called “activity-based anorexia” on both males and females. Interestingly, we observed that the expression of genes involved in the circadian rhythm is affected by the activity-based anorexia model in both the suprachiasmatic nucleus and peripheral tissues, such as the small intestine and liver. In addition, gut–microbiota also shows circadian variation. Interestingly, the anorexia-induced alterations of circadian variations (clock genes expression and gut–microbiota composition) are sex- and tissue-dependent. For instance, female mice exhibited more marked alterations in the ileum, whereas, in males, modifications were more pronounced in the liver. This study highlights sex-dependent alterations of circadian clock genes expression and of gut–microbiota in response to the anorexia rodent model. Further experiments should be performed to investigate the contribution of these mechanisms in the etiology of anorexia nervosa and the higher prevalence in females.

MeSH terms

  • ARNTL Transcription Factors* / genetics
  • Animals
  • Anorexia
  • CLOCK Proteins
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microbiota*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism


  • ARNTL Transcription Factors
  • RNA, Messenger
  • CLOCK Proteins