The circadian clock system consists of a central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus and peripheral clocks in peripheral tissues. Peripheral clocks in the liver have fundamental roles in maintaining liver homeostasis, including the regulation of energy metabolism and the expression of enzymes controlling the absorption and metabolism of xenobiotics. Over the past two decades, research has investigated the molecular mechanisms linking circadian clock genes with the regulation of hepatic physiological functions, using global clock-gene-knockout mice, or mice with liver-specific knockout of clock genes or clock-controlled genes. Clock dysfunction accelerates the development of liver diseases such as fatty liver diseases, cirrhosis, hepatitis and liver cancer, and these disorders also disrupt clock function. Food is an important regulator of circadian clocks in peripheral tissues. Thus, controlling the timing of food consumption and food composition, a concept known as chrononutrition, is one area of active research to aid recovery from many physiological dysfunctions. In this Review, we focus on the molecular mechanisms of hepatic circadian gene regulation and the relationships between hepatic circadian clock systems and liver physiology and disease. We concentrate on experimental data obtained from cell or mice and rat models and discuss how these findings translate into clinical research, and we highlight the latest developments in chrononutritional studies.
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