A model for generating circadian rhythm by coupling ultradian oscillators




Paetkau, Verner
Edwards, Roderick
Illner, Reinhard

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BioMed Central


Background: Organisms ranging from humans to cyanobacteria undergo circadian rhythm, that is, variations in behavior that cycle over a period about 24 hours in length. A fundamental property of circadian rhythm is that it is free-running, and continues with a period close to 24 hours in the absence of light cycles or other external cues. Regulatory networks involving feedback inhibition and feedforward stimulation of mRNA transcription and translation are thought to be critical for many circadian mechanisms, and genes coding for essential components of circadian rhythm have been identified in several organisms. However, it is not clear how such components are organized to generate a circadian oscillation. Results: We propose a model in which two independent transcriptional-translational oscillators with periods much shorter than 24 hours are coupled to drive a forced oscillator that has a circadian period, using mechanisms and parameters of conventional molecular biology. Furthermore, the resulting circadian oscillator can be entrained by an external light-dark cycle through known mechanisms. We rationalize the mathematical basis for the observed behavior of the model, and show that the behavior is not dependent on the details of the component ultradian oscillators but occurs even if quite generalized basic oscillators are used. Conclusion: We conclude that coupled, independent, transcriptional-translational oscillators with relatively short periods can be the basis for circadian oscillators. The resulting circadian oscillator can be entrained by 24-hour light-dark cycles, and the model suggests a mechanism for its evolution.


BioMed Central



Paetkau et al. A model for generating circadian rhythm by coupling ultradian oscillators. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 2006, 3 :12