Saturated fatty acids, such as palmitate, lead to circadian disruption in cell culture. Moreover, information regarding the effects of unsaturated fatty acids on circadian parameters is scarce. We aimed at studying the effects of low doses of saturated as well as unsaturated fatty acids on circadian metabolism in vivo and at deciphering the mechanism by which fatty acids convey their effect. Mice were fed non-obesogenic doses of palm or olive oil and hepatocytes were treated with palmitate and oleate. Mice fed non-obesogenic doses of palm oil showed increased signaling towards fatty acid synthesis, while olive oil increased signaling towards fatty acid oxidation. Low doses of palmitate and oleate were sufficient to alter circadian rhythms, due to changes in the expression and/or activity of key metabolic proteins. Palmitate, but not oleate, counteracted the reduction in lipid accumulation and BMAL1-induced expression of mitochondrial genes involved in fatty acid oxidation. Palmitate was also found to interfere with the transcriptional activity of CLOCK:BMAL1 by preventing BMAL1 deacetylation and activation. In addition, palmitate, but not oleate, reduced PER2-mediated transcriptional activation and increased REV-ERBα-mediated transcriptional inhibition of Bmal1. The inhibition of PER2-mediated transcriptional activation by palmitate was achieved by interfering with PER2 nuclear translocation. Indeed, PER2 reduced fat accumulation in hepatocytes and this reduction was prevented by palmitate. Herein, we show that the detrimental metabolic alteration seen with high doses of palmitate manifests itself early on even with non-obesogenic levels. This is achieved by modulating BMAL1 at several levels abrogating its activity and expression.
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