Genetics and molecular biology of rhythms in Drosophila and other insects

Adv Genet. 2003;48:1-280. doi: 10.1016/s0065-2660(03)48000-0.


Application of generic variants (Sections II-IV, VI, and IX) and molecular manipulations of rhythm-related genes (Sections V-X) have been used extensively to investigate features of insect chronobiology that might not have been experimentally accessible otherwise. Most such tests of mutants and molecular-genetic xperiments have been performed in Drosophila melanogaster. Results from applying visual-system variants have revealed that environmental inputs to the circadian clock in adult flies are mediated by external photoreceptive structures (Section II) and also by direct light reception chat occurs in certain brain neurons (Section IX). The relevant light-absorbing molecuLes are rhodopsins and "blue-receptive" cryptochrome (Sections II and IX). Variations in temperature are another clock input (Section IV), as has been analyzed in part by use of molecular techniques and transgenes involving factors functioning near the heart of the circadian clock (Section VIII). At that location within the fly's chronobiological system, approximately a half-dozen-perhaps up to as many as 10-clock genes encode functions that act and interact to form the circadian pacemaker (Sections III and V). This entity functions in part by transcriptional control of certain clock genes' expressions, which result in the production of key proteins that feed back negatively to regulate their own mRNA production. This occurs in part by interactions of such proteins with others that function as transcriptional activators (Section V). The implied feedback loop operates such that there are daily variations in the abundances of products put out by about one-half of the core clock genes. Thus, the normal expression of these genes defines circadian rhythms of their own, paralleling the effects of mutations at the corresponding genetic loci (Section III), which are to disrupt or apparently eliminate clock functioning. The fluctuations in the abundance of gene products are controlled transciptionally and posttranscriptionally. These clock mechanisms are being analyzed in ways that are increasingly complex and occasionally obscure; not all panels of this picture are comprehensive or clear, including problems revolving round the biological meaning or a given features of all this molecular cycling (Section V). Among the complexities and puzzles that have recently arisen, phenomena that stand out are posttranslational modifications of certain proteins that are circadianly regulated and regulating; these biochemical events form an ancillary component of the clock mechanism, as revealed in part by genetic identification of Factors (Section III) that turned out to encode protein kinases whose substrates include other pacemaking polypeptides (Section V). Outputs from insect circadian clocks have been long defined on formalistic and in some cases concrete criteria, related to revealed rhythms such as periodic eclosion and daily fluctuations of locomotion (Sections II and III). Based on the reasoning that if clock genes can regulate circadian cyclings of their own products, they can do the same for genes that function along output pathways; thus clock-regulated genes have been identified in part by virtue of their products' oscillations (Section X). Those studied most intensively have their expression influenced by circadian-pacemaker mutations. The clock-regulated genes discovered on molecular criteria have in some instances been analyzed further in their mutant forms and found to affect certain features of overt whole-organismal rhythmicity (Sections IV and X). Insect chronogenetics touches in part on naturally occurring gene variations that affect biological rhythmicity or (in some cases) have otherwise informed investigators about certain features of the organism's rhythm system (Section VII). Such animals include at least a dozen insect species other than D. melanogaster in which rhythm variants have been encountered (although usually not looked for systematically). The chronobiological "system" in the fruit fly might better be graced with a plural appellation because there is a myriad of temporally related phenomena that have come under the sway of one kind of putative rhythm variant or the other (Section IV). These phenotypes, which range well beyond the bedrock eclosion and locomotor circadian rhythms, unfortunately lead to the creation of a laundry list of underanalyzed or occult phenomena that may or may not be inherently real, whether or not they might be meaningfully defective under the influence of a given chronogenetic variant. However, such mutants seem to lend themselves to the interrogation of a wide variety of time-based attributes-those that fall within the experimental confines of conventionally appreciated circadian rhythms (Sections II, III, VI, and X); and others that consist of 24-hr or nondaily cycles defined by many kinds of biological, physiological, or biochemical parameters (Section IV).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Drosophila / genetics
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Insecta / physiology
  • Periodicity