Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Neurobiology; Reppert Lab

First Thesis Advisor

Steven M. Reppert


circadian clock, monarch butterfly, Circadian Rhythm, Butterflies, Biological Clocks, Drosophila Proteins, Flavoproteins


Every fall, Northeastern America monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) undergo an extraordinary migration to their overwintering site in Central Mexico. During their long migration, monarch migrants use sun compass to navigate. To maintain a southward flying direction, monarch migrants compensate for the continuously changing position of the sun by providing timing information to the compass using their circadian clock.

Animal circadian clocks depend primarily on a negative transcriptional feedback loop to track time. I started my work to re-construct the monarch butterfly circadian clock negative feedback loop in cell culture, focusing on homologs of Drosophila clock genes. It turned out that in addition to a Drosophila-like cryptochrome (cry1) gene, a second mammalian-like cry2 gene exists in monarch butterflies and many other insects, except in Drosophila. The two CRYs showed distinct functions in our initial assays in cultured Drosophila Schneider 2 (S2) cells. CRY2 functions as a potent transcriptional repressor, while CRY1 is light sensitive but shows no obvious transcriptional activity. The existence of two cry genes in insects changed the Drosophila-centric view of insect circadian clock.

During the course of my study, our lab obtained a monarch cell line called DpN1 cells. These cells possess a light-driven clock and contributed tremendously to the research on monarch circadian clock. Using this cell line, I provided strong evidence supporting monarch CRY2’s role as a major circadian clock repressor and identified a protein-protein protective interaction cascade underlying the CRY1-mediated resetting of the molecular oscillator in DpN1 cells.

I continued my work trying to understand how insect CRY2 inhibits transcription. I provided evidence suggesting the involvement of monarch PER in promoting CRY2 nuclear entry in both S2 cells and DpN1 cells. Finally, I mapped CRY2’s transcriptional inhibitory activity onto its N-terminal domain.

Collectively, my research helped to change our view of insect clocks from a Drosophila-centric standpoint to a much more diverse picture. My studies also advanced the understanding of monarch circadian clock mechanism, and provides a foundation for further studies.



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