Circadian rhythms are generated by interlocked transcriptional-translational negative feedback loops (TTFLs), the molecular process implemented within a cell. The contributions, weighting and balancing between the multiple feedback loops remain debated. Dissociated, free-running dynamics in the expression of distinct clock genes has been described in recent experimental studies that applied various perturbations such as slice preparations, light pulses, jet-lag, and culture medium exchange. In this paper, we provide evidence that this "presumably transient" dissociation of circadian gene expression oscillations may occur at the single-cell level. Conceptual and detailed mechanistic mathematical modeling suggests that such dissociation is due to a weak interaction between multiple feedback loops present within a single cell. The dissociable loops provide insights into underlying mechanisms and general design principles of the molecular circadian clock.
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