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The food-energy cellular connection revealed
Date:10/15/2009

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"When we get up in the morning we 'break the fast'," says Evans. While opening the fridge doesn't require a lot of physical activity, the situation for animals in the wild is quite different. "If you are a predatory animal you run to hunt. If you are prey, you run to get away."

But how pacemakers in peripheral tissues such as the liver and muscle knew that it was time to scurry and replenish their energy stores was still an open question. When postdoctoral researcher and first author Katja Lamia, Ph.D., started probing the relationship between metabolism and circadian cycles, she discovered a highly conserved phosporylation site in CRY1, short for cryptochrome 1. Cryptochromes originally evolved as a blue light photoreceptor in plants and, although no longer sensitive to light, are now an integral part of the clock in vertebrates.

The phosphorylation site is specific for AMPK, which acts like a gas gauge by sensing how much energy a cell has. When a cell has plenty of energy, AMPK remains inactive and the cell carries out its normal processes. Her experiments revealed that if a cell runs on empty, AMPK is turned on and attaches a phosphate molecule to CRY1, which initiates the destruction of CRY1. As a result the circadian rhythm speeds up and the clock is reset.

"The insertion of an AMPK phosphorylation site transformed a light sensor into an energy sensor, which now allows nutrients to provide metabolic input to circadian clocks," explain Lamia. "Insertion of a novel sensor into an existing signaling pathway is a very elegant solution to a rather complicated problem."

Genetic inactivation of AMPK in mice blocks these effects, stabilizing CRY1 and severely disrupting peripheral clocks. In contrast, treating mice with AICAR, a synthetic drug that directly activates AMPK, reset the clock in cultured cells as well as in animals, confirming that cryptochromes act as energy sensors that allow to circadian clocks.

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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-410-01340
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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