CLOCK expression identifies developing circadian oscillator neurons in the brains of Drosophila embryos Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: The Drosophila circadian oscillator is composed of transcriptional feedback loops in which CLOCK-CYCLE (CLK-CYC) heterodimers activate their feedback regulators period (per) and timeless (tim) via E-box mediated transcription. These feedback loop oscillators are present in distinct clusters of dorsal and lateral neurons in the adult brain, but how this pattern of expression is established during development is not known. Since CLK is required to initiate feedback loop function, defining the pattern of CLK expression in embryos and larvae will shed light on oscillator neuron development. RESULTS: A novel CLK antiserum is used to show that CLK expression in the larval CNS and adult brain is limited to circadian oscillator cells. CLK is initially expressed in presumptive small ventral lateral neurons (s-LNvs), dorsal neurons 2 s (DN2s), and dorsal neuron 1 s (DN1s) at embryonic stage (ES) 16, and this CLK expression pattern persists through larval development. PER then accumulates in all CLK-expressing cells except presumptive DN2s during late ES 16 and ES 17, consistent with the delayed accumulation of PER in adult oscillator neurons and antiphase cycling of PER in larval DN2s. PER is also expressed in non-CLK-expressing cells in the embryonic CNS starting at ES 12. Although PER expression in CLK-negative cells continues in ClkJrk embryos, PER expression in cells that co-express PER and CLK is eliminated. CONCLUSION: These data demonstrate that brain oscillator neurons begin development during embryogenesis, that PER expression in non-oscillator cells is CLK-independent, and that oscillator phase is an intrinsic characteristic of brain oscillator neurons. These results define the temporal and spatial coordinates of factors that initiate Clk expression, imply that circadian photoreceptors are not activated until the end of embryogenesis, and suggest that PER functions in a different capacity before oscillator cell development is initiated.

author list (cited authors)

  • Houl, J. H., Ng, F., Taylor, P., & Hardin, P. E.

citation count

  • 29

publication date

  • December 2008