The study, among the first to explore circadian time mechanisms outside the brain, could have a potentially broad impact on the burgeoning fields of circadian medicine and postgenomic science.
Clinicians have known for years that organs function at different ratesthe heart beats, kidneys transport ions and electrolytes, the liver metabolizes lipids, sugars, and amino acids differently over the course of the dayand have used this knowledge to design more effective drug regimens for patients. A better understanding of what drives those local rhythms, and how they go wrong, could aid physicians efforts.
The discovery that different genes perform similar circadian functions also bears on attempts to move beyond the Human Genome Project, to find functions for the tens of thousands of newly described genes. "There is a lesson here beyond clocks, and that is that the relationship between gene regulation and physiology has a giant black box," said the studys principal investigator, Charles Weitz, Assistant Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.
The existence of peripheral timepieces had been suspected but no one knew how much control they actually had or why they were in organs such as the heart, lungs, and liver in the first place. Using newly developed gene chips, Charles Weitz, Kai-Florian Storch, Research Fellow in Neurobiology at Harvard Me
Contact: Donna Burtanger
Harvard Medical School