Timing of expression of the core clock gene Bmal1 influences its effects on aging and survival

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Science Translational Medicine  03 Feb 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 324, pp. 324ra16
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad3305

For clock ticking, timing matters

Ironically, antiaging product advertisements often promise to “slow down the clock.” But abolishing the circadian clock—for example, by knocking out Bmal1, a core clock gene—accelerates aging and shortens the life span in mice. As a result, Bmal1 knockout mice often serve as a model system in studies of the role of circadian rhythms in the aging process. Now Yang et al. show that the developmental timing of Bmal1 expression influences the circadian clock’s effects on aging and survival.

To assess the role of circadian rhythms in the aging process, the authors made conditional Bmal1 knockout mice that are missing the BMAL1 protein only during adult life. Unlike knockout mice that perpetually lack Bmal1 expression, the new conditional Bmal1 knockout mice displayed loss of circadian rhythm in wheel-running activity, heart rate, and blood pressure, but exhibited normal life spans, fertility, body weight, blood glucose levels, and age-dependent arthropathy; in fact, atherosclerosis and hair growth actually improved, despite obliteration of clock function. Another surprising observation was little changes in overall gene expression in the livers of adult-life Bmal1 knockout mice, even though there’s a quelling of expression of oscillating genes. Both prenatal and postnatal knockout mice displayed similar ocular abnormalities and brain astrogliosis.

Taken together, these findings reveal that many phenotypes thought to be caused by circadian rhythm disruption in conventional Bmal1 knockout mice apparently manifest as a result of clock-independent BMAL1 functions. Thus, the systemic role of the molecular clock in the biology of aging requires reinvestigation in order to increase the likelihood of translation for preclinical studies of the aging process.


The absence of Bmal1, a core clock gene, results in a loss of circadian rhythms, an acceleration of aging, and a shortened life span in mice. To address the importance of circadian rhythms in the aging process, we generated conditional Bmal1 knockout mice that lacked the BMAL1 protein during adult life and found that wild-type circadian variations in wheel-running activity, heart rate, and blood pressure were abolished. Ocular abnormalities and brain astrogliosis were conserved irrespective of the timing of Bmal1 deletion. However, life span, fertility, body weight, blood glucose levels, and age-dependent arthropathy, which are altered in standard Bmal1 knockout mice, remained unaltered, whereas atherosclerosis and hair growth improved, in the conditional adult-life Bmal1 knockout mice, despite abolition of clock function. Hepatic RNA-Seq revealed that expression of oscillatory genes was dampened in the adult-life Bmal1 knockout mice, whereas overall gene expression was largely unchanged. Thus, many phenotypes in conventional Bmal1 knockout mice, hitherto attributed to disruption of circadian rhythms, reflect the loss of properties of BMAL1 that are independent of its role in the clock. These findings prompt reevaluation of the systemic consequences of disruption of the molecular clock.

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