Circadian rhythms maintain tissue homeostasis during the 24-h day-night cycle. Cell-autonomous circadian clocks play fundamental roles in cell division, DNA damage responses and metabolism. Circadian disruptions have been proposed as a contributing factor for cancer initiation and progression, although definitive evidence for altered molecular circadian clocks in cancer is still lacking. In this study, we looked at circadian clocks in breast cancer.
We isolated primary tumours and normal tissues from the same individuals who had developed breast cancer with no metastases. We assessed circadian clocks within primary cells of the patients by lentiviral expression of circadian reporters, and the levels of clock genes in tissues by qPCR. We histologically examined collagen organisation within the normal and tumour tissue areas, and probed the stiffness of the stroma adjacent to normal and tumour epithelium using atomic force microscopy.
Epithelial ducts were disorganised within the tumour areas. Circadian clocks were altered in cultured tumour cells. Tumour regions were surrounded by stroma with an altered collagen organisation and increased stiffness. Levels of Bmal1 messenger RNA (mRNA) were significantly altered in the tumours in comparison to normal epithelia.
Circadian rhythms are suppressed in breast tumour epithelia in comparison to the normal epithelia in paired patient samples. This correlates with increased tissue stiffness around the tumour region. We suggest possible involvement of altered circadian clocks in the development and progression of breast cancer.