Researchers Discover Gene That Controls Body Clock

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genesIn a recent study published in the journal Cell, researchers found the gene that controls the body clock—a person’s internal biological clock that is responsible for the regulation and timing of wakefulness and sleepiness throughout each day.

Problems with the gene, called zinc finger homeobox 3 (Zfhx3), can negatively impact the circadian rhythms that the body clock controls in the cells throughout the body.

Zfhx3 is very active in the hypothalamus part of the brain that is necessary for hormone production. For instance, the hypothalamus will produce hormones, such as the growth-releasing hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, corticotrophin-releasing hormone and thyrotropin-releasing hormone.

Study findings explain how the impact from the body clock can negatively impact the health of a shift worker with irregular hours.

In the study, researchers compared normal circadian rhythms in genes from mice with extremely short body clocks. The comparison led researchers to discover that Zfhx3 had a more prominent role than previous studies had indicated. Zfhx3 regulates neurotransmitter and receptor expressions that are important for the synchronization of circadian rhythms in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).

The Zfhx3 malfunction in the mice led to SCN miscommunication. As a result, the body clocks were faster in the mice than usual.

“Our discovery of this gene fault that speeds up the circadian rhythm of mice provides a valuable insight into how the body clock is controlled. This approach has allowed us to gain insight into how the regulation of neuropeptide networks in the hypothalamus can synchronize biological clocks in the whole organism,” commented lead researcher Dr. Pat Nolan.

Problems with biological rhythm synchronization in the brain have previously been linked with psychiatric and behavioral disorders like schizophrenia. A 2014 study published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggests that rotating shift workers experience a 42% increased risk of type 2 diabetes due to their disturbed body clocks. Other studies also connect the body clock with sleep problems.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Nolan, et al., “The Regulatory Factor XFHX3 Modifies Circadian Function in SCN via an AT Motif-Driven Axis,” Cell, July 30, 2015; 162(3): 607-621, doi:
“Scientists discover gene that controls Body clock,” Medical News Today web site, Aug. 2, 2015;
Wang, X.S., et al., “Shift work and chronic disease: the epidemiological evidence,” Occupational Medicine, 2011, 61(2): 78-89, doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqr001.
“Hypothalamus,” You & Your Hormones website;, last updated January 21, 2015.