GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Emery Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Patrick Emery


Circadian Rhythm, Drosophila Proteins, Body Temperature, Drosophila, Invertebrate Photoreceptors, Light, Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases


Circadian clocks are biological timekeepers that help maintain an organism’s behavior and physiological state optimally timed to the Earth’s day/night cycle. To do this, these internal pacemakers must accurately keep track of time. Equally importantly, they must be able to adjust their oscillations in response to external time cues to remain properly synchronized with the environment, and correctly anticipate environmental changes. When the internal clock is offset from its surrounding day/night cycle, clinically relevant disruptions develop, ranging from inconveniences such as jet-lag to more severe problems such as sleep disorders or mood disorders. In this work, I have used the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model organism to investigate how light and temperature can synchronize circadian systems.

My initial studies centered on an intracellular photoreceptor, CRYPTOCHROME (CRY). CRY is a blue light photoreceptor previously identified as a major component of the primary light-input pathway into the Drosophila circadian clock. We used molecular techniques to show that after light-activation, CRY binds to the key circadian molecule TIMELESS (TIM). This interaction irreversibly targets TIM, but not CRY, for degradation. Further studies characterizing a newly isolated cry mutant, crym, showed that the carboxyl-terminus of CRY is not necessary for CRY’s ability to impart photic information to the molecular clock. Instead, the C-terminus appears to be necessary for normal CRY stability and protein-protein interactions. Thus, we conclude that in contrast to previous reports on CRYs of other species, where the C-terminal domain was required for transduction of photic information, the C-terminus of DrosophilaCRY has a purely modulatory function.

During the second part of my dissertation work, I focused my studies on circadian thermoreception. While the effects of light in synchronization of the Drosophilaclock to environmental cycles have been extensively characterized, significantly less is known about temperature input pathways into the circadian pacemaker. I have used two approaches to look at how temperature affects the circadian system. First, I conducted a series of behavioral analyses looking at how locomotor rhythms can be phase-shifted in response to temperature cycles. By examining the behavior of genetically ablated flies, we determined that the well-characterized neurons controlling morning and evening surges of activity during light/dark cycles are also implicated in morning and evening behaviors under temperature cycles. However, we also find evidence of cells that contribute to modulating afternoon and evening behavior specifically under temperature cycles. These data contribute to a growing number of studies in the field suggesting that pacemaker cells may play different roles under various environmental conditions. Additionally, we provide data showing that intercellular communication plays an important role in regulating circadian response to temperature cycles. When the morning oscillator is absent or attenuated, the evening cells respond abnormally quickly to temperature cycles. My work thus provides information on the roles of different cell groups during temperature cycles, and suggests that beyond simply synchronizing individual oscillating cells, intercellular network activity may also have a role in modulating proper response to environmental time cues.

Finally, I present some preliminary work looking at effects of temperature on known circadian molecules. Using a combination of in vivo and cell culture techniques, I have found that TIM protein levels decrease at higher temperatures. My cell culture data suggest that this is a proteasome-independent degradation event. As TIM is also a key molecule in the light-input pathway, the stability of TIM proteins may be a key point of integration for light and temperature input pathways. While additional research needs to be conducted to confirm these effects in vivoin wild-type flies, these preliminary results identify a possible avenue for further study.

Taken together, my work has contributed new data on both molecular and neuronal substrates involved in processing light and temperature inputs into the Drosophila circadian clock.



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