Neuronal PAS domain protein 2 (NPAS2) is a transcription factor expressed primarily in the mammalian forebrain. NPAS2 is highly related in primary amino acid sequence to Clock, a transcription factor expressed in the suprachiasmatic nucleus that heterodimerizes with BMAL1 and regulates circadian rhythm. To investigate the biological role of NPAS2, we prepared a neuroblastoma cell line capable of conditional induction of the NPAS2:BMAL1 heterodimer and identified putative target genes by representational difference analysis, DNA microarrays, and Northem blotting. Coinduction of NPAS2 and BMAL1 activated transcription of the endogenous Per1, Per2, and Cry1 genes, which encode negatively activating components of the circadian regulatory apparatus, and repressed transcription of the endogenous BMAL1 gene. Analysis of the frontal cortex of wild-type mice kept in a 24-hour light-dark cycle revealed that Per1, Per2, and Cry1 mRNA levels were elevated during darkness and reduced during light, whereas BMAL1 mRNA displayed the opposite pattern. In situ hybridization assays of mice kept in constant darkness revealed that Per2 mRNA abundance did not oscillate as a function of the circadian cycle in NPAS2-deficient mice. Thus, NPAS2 likely functions as part of a molecular dock operative in the mammalian forebrain.
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