Inducible Knockout of Mouse Zfhx3 Emphasizes Its Key Role in Setting the Pace and Amplitude of the Adult Circadian Clock

Ashleigh G Wilcox, Lucie Vizor, Michael J Parsons, Gareth Banks, Patrick M Nolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The transcription factor zinc finger homeobox 3 (ZFHX3) plays a key role in coupling intracellular transcriptional-translational oscillations with intercellular synchrony in mouse suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). However, like many key players in central nervous system function, ZFHX3 serves an important role in neurulation and neuronal terminal differentiation while retaining discrete additional functions in the adult SCN. Recently, using a dominant missense mutation in mouse Zfhx3, we established that this gene can modify circadian period and sleep in adult animals. Nevertheless, we were still concerned that the neurodevelopmental consequences of ZFHX3 dysfunction in this mutant may interfere with, or confound, its critical adult-specific roles in SCN circadian function. To circumvent the developmental consequences of Zfhx3 deletion, we crossed a conditional null Zfhx3 mutant to an inducible, ubiquitously expressed Cre line (B6.Cg-Tg(UBC-cre/ERT2)1Ejb/J). This enabled us to assess circadian behavior in the same adult animals both before and after Cre-mediated excision of the critical Zfhx3 exons using tamoxifen treatment. Remarkably, we found a strong and significant alteration in circadian behavior in tamoxifen-treated homozygous animals with no phenotypic changes in heterozygous or control animals. Cre-mediated excision of Zfhx3 critical exons in adult animals resulted in shortening of the period of wheel-running in constant darkness by more than 1 h in the majority of homozygotes while, in 30% of animals, excision resulted in complete behavioral arrhythmicity. In addition, we found that homozygous animals reentrain almost immediately to 6-h phase advances in the light-dark cycle. No additional overt phenotypic changes were evident in treated homozygous animals. These findings confirm a sustained and significant role for ZFHX3 in maintaining rhythmicity in the adult mammalian circadian system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-443
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biological Rhythms
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks/drug effects
  • Circadian Rhythm/genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Homeodomain Proteins/genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mutation
  • Period Circadian Proteins/genetics
  • Photoperiod
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus/physiology
  • Tamoxifen/pharmacology


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