The clock transcription factor BMAL1 is a key regulator of extracellular matrix homeostasis and cell fate in the intervertebral disc

Michal Dudek, Honor Morris, Natalie Rogers, Dharshika Rj Pathiranage, Sujitha Saba Raj, Danny Chan, Karl E Kadler, Judith Hoyland, Qing-Jun Meng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The circadian clock in mammals temporally coordinates physiological and behavioural processes to anticipate daily rhythmic changes in their environment. Chronic disruption to circadian rhythms (e.g., through ageing or shift work) is thought to contribute to a multitude of diseases, including degeneration of the musculoskeletal system. The intervertebral disc (IVD) in the spine contains circadian clocks which control ∼6% of the transcriptome in a rhythmic manner, including key genes involved in extracellular matrix (ECM) homeostasis. However, it remains largely unknown to what extent the local IVD molecular clock is required to drive rhythmic gene transcription and IVD physiology. In this work, we identified profound age-related changes of ECM microarchitecture and an endochondral ossification-like phenotype in the annulus fibrosus (AF) region of the IVD in the Col2a1-Bmal1 knockout mice. Circadian time series RNA-Seq of the whole IVD in Bmal1 knockout revealed loss of circadian patterns in gene expression, with an unexpected emergence of 12-hour ultradian rhythms, including FOXO transcription factors. Further RNA sequencing of the AF tissue identified region-specific changes in gene expression, evidencing a loss of AF phenotype markers and a dysregulation of ECM and FOXO pathways in Bmal1 knockout mice. Consistent with an up-regulation of FOXO1 mRNA and protein levels in Bmal1 knockout IVDs, inhibition of FOXO1 in AF cells suppressed their osteogenic differentiation. Collectively, these data highlight the importance of the local molecular clock mechanism in the maintenance of the cell fate and ECM homeostasis of the IVD. Further studies may identify potential new molecular targets for alleviating IVD degeneration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalMatrix biology : journal of the International Society for Matrix Biology
Early online date24 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023


  • Bmal1
  • Circadian clock
  • Collagen
  • Degeneration
  • Electron microscopy
  • IVD


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