DBP, a liver-enriched transcriptional activator protein of the leucine zipper protein family, accumulates according to a very strong circadian rhythm (amplitude approx. 1000-fold). In rat parenchymal hepatocytes, the protein is barely detectable during the morning hours. At about 2 p.m., DBP levels begin to rise, reach maximal levels at 8 p.m. and decline sharply during the night. This rhythm is free-running: it persists with regard to both its amplitude and phase in the absence of external time cues, such as daily dark/light switches. Also, fasting of rats for several days influences neither the amplitude nor the phase of circadian DBP expression. Since the levels of DBP mRNA and nascent transcripts also oscillate with a strong amplitude, circadian DBP expression is transcriptionally controlled. While DBP mRNA fluctuates with a similar phase and amplitude in most tissues examined, DBP protein accumulates to high concentrations only in liver nuclei. Hence, at least in nonhepatic tissues, cyclic DBP transcription is unlikely to be controlled by a positive and/or negative feedback mechanism involving DBP itself. More likely, the circadian DBP expression is governed by hormones whose peripheral concentrations also oscillate during the day. Several lines of evidence suggest a pivotal role of glucocorticoid hormones in establishing the DBP cycle.
Two genes whose mRNAs and protein products accumulate according to a strong circadian rhythm with a phase compatible with regulation by DBP encode enzymes with key functions in cholesterol metabolism: HMG-coA reductase is the rate-limiting enzyme in cholesterol synthesis; cholesterol 7-α hydroxylase performs the rate-limiting step in the conversion of cholesterol to bile acid. DBP may thus be involved in regulating cholesterol homeostasis.
- © The Company of Biologists Limited 1992