Circadian rhythms, which period is approximately one day, are generated by endogenous biological clocks. These clocks are found throughout the animal kingdom, as well as in plants and even in prokaryotes. Molecular mechanisms for circadian rhythms are based on transcriptional oscillation of clock component genes, consisting of interwoven autoregulatory feedback loops. Among the loops, the nuclear transport of clock proteins is a crucial step for transcriptional regulation. In the present study, we showed that the nuclear entry of mCRY2, a mammalian clock component, is mediated by the importin alpha/beta system through a bipartite nuclear localization signal in its carboxyl end. In vitro transport assay using digitonin-permeabilized cells demonstrated that all three importin alphas, alpha1 (Rch1), alpha3 (Qip-1), and alpha7 (NPI-2), can mediate mCRY2 import. mCRY2 with the mutant nuclear localization signal failed to transport mPER2 into the nucleus of mammalian cultured cells, indicating that the nuclear localization signal identified in mCRY2 is physiologically significant. These results suggest that the importin alpha/beta system is involved in nuclear entry of mammalian clock components, which is indispensable to transcriptional oscillation of clock genes.
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