In vitro bioluminescence assay to characterize circadian rhythm in mammary epithelial cells

Mingzhu Fang, Hwan Goo Kang, Youngil Park, Brian Estrella, Helmut Zarbl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The circadian rhythm is a fundamental physiological process present in all organisms that regulates biological processes ranging from gene expression to sleep behavior. In vertebrates, circadian rhythm is controlled by a molecular oscillator that functions in both the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN; central pacemaker) and individual cells comprising most peripheral tissues. More importantly, disruption of circadian rhythm by exposure to light-at-night, environmental stressors and/or toxicants is associated with increased risk of chronic diseases and aging. The ability to identify agents that can disrupt central and/or peripheral biological clocks, and agents that can prevent or mitigate the effects of circadian disruption, has significant implications for prevention of chronic diseases. Although rodent models can be used to identify exposures and agents that induce or prevent/mitigate circadian disruption, these experiments require large numbers of animals. In vivo studies also require significant resources and infrastructure, and require researchers to work all night. Thus, there is an urgent need for a cell-type appropriate in vitro system to screen for environmental circadian disruptors and enhancers in cell types from different organs and disease states. We constructed a vector that drives transcription of the destabilized luciferase in eukaryotic cells under the control of the human PERIOD 2 gene promoter. This circadian reporter construct was stably transfected into human mammary epithelial cells, and circadian responsive reporter cells were selected to develop the in vitro bioluminescence assay. Here, we present a detailed protocol to establish and validate the assay. We further provide details for proof of concept experiments demonstrating the ability of our in vitro assay to recapitulate the in vivo effects of various chemicals on the cellular biological clock. The results indicate that the assay can be adapted to a variety of cell types to screen for both environmental disruptors and chemopreventive enhancers of circadian clocks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere55832
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number127
StatePublished - Sep 28 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


  • Circadian rhythm
  • Destabilized firefly luciferase
  • Genetics
  • In vitro real-time bioluminescence assay
  • Issue 127
  • Luciferase expression vector
  • PERIOD 2
  • Plasmid transfection
  • Promoter activity

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