The circadian clock system is necessary to adapt endogenous physiological functions to daily variations in environmental conditions. Abnormality in circadian rhythms, such as the sleep-wake cycle and the timing of hormonal secretions, is implicated in various physiological and psychiatrical disorders. Recent molecular studies have revealed that oscillation in the transcription of specific clock genes plays a central role in the generation of 24 h cycles of physiology and behavior. It has been noticed that patients receiving chemotherapeutic agents experience disturbances in their behavioral and physical performances, including circadian rhythms. To explore the underlying mechanism of chemotherapeutic agent-induced disturbance of these rhythms, we investigated the influence of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), one of the most widely used chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of cancers, on the expression of clock genes. Treatment of cultured NIH3T3 cells with 5-FU for 48 h resulted in a significant reduction of mRNA levels of Period1 (Per1) and Period2 (Per2) without affecting cell viability; however, treatment with the same amount of uracil, a structural analog of 5-FU, had little effect on the expression of clock genes. Consistent with its inhibitory actions, continuous administration of 5-FU (2 mg/kg/h) to mice attenuated the oscillation in the expressions of Per1 and Per2 in the liver and suprachiasmatic nuclei, the center of the mammalian circadian clock. These results reveal a possible pharmacological action by the chemotherapeutic agent 5-FU on the circadian clock mechanism, which is the underlying cause of its adverse effects on 24-h rhythms of physiology and behavior.
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