Synchronization of biological functions to environmental signals enables organisms to anticipate and appropriately respond to daily external fluctuations and is critical to the maintenance of homeostasis. Misalignment of circadian rhythms with environmental cues is associated with adverse health outcomes. Cortisol, the downstream effector of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) activity, facilitates synchronization of peripheral biological processes to the environment. Cortisol levels exhibit substantial seasonal rhythmicity, with peak levels occurring during the shortphotoperiod winter months and reduced levels occurring in the long-photoperiod summer season. Seasonal changes in cortisol secretion could therefore alter its entraining capabilities, resulting in a season-dependent modification in the alignment of biological activities with the environment. We develop a mathematical model to investigate the influence of photoperiod-induced seasonal differences in the circadian rhythmicity of the HPA axis on the synchronization of the peripheral circadian clock and cell cycle in a heterogeneous cell population. Model simulations predict that the high-amplitude cortisol rhythms in winter result in the greatest entrainment of peripheral oscillators. Furthermore, simulations predict a circadian gating of the cell cycle with respect to the expression of peripheral clock genes. Seasonal differences in cortisol rhythmicity are also predicted to influence mitotic synchrony, with a high-amplitude winter rhythm resulting in the greatest synchrony and a shift in timing of the cell cycle phases, relative to summer. Our results highlight the primary interactions among the HPA axis, the peripheral circadian clock, and the cell cycle and thereby provide an improved understanding of the implications of circadian misalignment on the synchronization of peripheral regulatory processes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes