Persistent cell-autonomous circadian oscillations in fibroblasts revealed by six-week single-cell imaging of PER2::LUC bioluminescence

Leise, Tanya L. (Department of Mathematics, Amherst College)

Biological oscillators naturally exhibit stochastic fluctuations in period and amplitude due to the random nature of molecular reactions. Accurately measuring the precision of noisy oscillators and the heterogeneity in period and strength of rhythmicity across a population of cells requires single-cell recordings of sufficient length to fully represent the variability of oscillations. We found persistent, independent circadian oscillations of clock gene expression in 6-week-long bioluminescence recordings of 80 primary fibroblast cells dissociated from PER2::LUC mice and kept in vitro for 6 months. Due to the stochastic nature of rhythmicity, the proportion of cells appearing rhythmic increases with the length of interval examined, with 100% of cells found to be rhythmic when using 3-week windows. Mean period and amplitude are remarkably stable throughout the 6-week recordings, with precision improving over time. For individual cells, precision of period and amplitude are correlated with cell size and rhythm amplitude, but not with period, and period exhibits much less cycle-to-cycle variability (CV 7.3%) than does amplitude (CV 37%). The time series are long enough to distinguish stochastic fluctuations within each cell from differences among cells, and we conclude that the cells do exhibit significant heterogeneity in period and strength of rhythmicity, which we measure using a novel statistical metric. Furthermore, stochastic modeling suggests that these single-cell clocks operate near a Hopf bifurcation, such that intrinsic noise enhances the oscillations by minimizing period variability and sustaining amplitude.