Chronic subordination stress phase advances adrenal and anterior pituitary clock gene rhythms

Maria Razzoli, Carley Karsten, J. Marina Yoder, Alessandro Bartolomucci, William C. Engeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Circadian rhythms in glucocorticoids are the product of interactions between the hypothalamicpituitary- adrenal (HPA) axis and the mammalian clock gene system. The adrenal clock can generate the glucocorticoid rhythm that in turn synchronizes other peripheral clocks to maintain homeostasis. Stress acutely activates and chronically upregulates the HPA axis, suggesting that the adrenal clock could be modulated by stress. However, there is no direct evidence that stress affects the adrenal clock rhythm. We tested the hypothesis that a model of chronic subordination stress (CSS) that has a major impact on HPA axis regulation, metabolism, and emotional behavior alters adrenal and pituitary clock gene rhythms. Clock gene rhythms were assessed using mPER2::Luciferase (PER2Luc) knockin mice in which in vitro bioluminescence rhythms reflect the Per2 clock gene expression. PER2Luc mice that experienced CSS for 2 wk showed positive energy balance reflected by increased body weight and food intake. Additionally, CSS phase advanced the adrenal (~2 h) and the pituitary (~1 h) PER2Luc rhythm compared with control mice. The activity rhythm was not affected. The adrenal clock phase shift was associated with increased feed conversion efficiency, suggesting that the metabolic phenotype in CSS mice may be related to altered adrenal clock rhythmicity. Interestingly, a single subordination experience followed by 8 h sensory housing also phase advanced the adrenal, but not the pituitary, PER2Luc rhythm. Overall, these data demonstrate a stress-induced phase shift in a peripheral clock gene rhythm and differential stress sensitivity of two peripheral clocks within the HPA axis, suggesting a link between clock desynchrony and individual vulnerability to stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R198-R205
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2014


  • Adrenal clock
  • Circadian rhythm
  • Corticosterone
  • Subordination stress

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