Photoperiodism, the ability to respond to seasonal varying day length with suitable life history changes, is a common trait in organisms that live in temperate regions. In most studied organisms, the circadian system appears to be the basis for photoperiodic time measurement. In insects this is still controversial: while some data indicate that the circadian system is causally involved in photoperiodism, others suggest that it may have a marginal or indirect role. Resonance experiments in the parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis have revealed a circadian component in photoperiodic time measurement compatible with a mechanism of internal coincidence where a two components oscillator system obtains information from dawn and dusk, respectively. The identity of this oscillator (or oscillators) is still unclear but possible candidates are the oscillating molecules of the auto-regulatory feedback loops in the heart of the circadian system. Here, we show for the first time the circadian oscillation of period and cryptochrome mRNAs in the heads of Nasonia females kept under short and long photoperiods. Period and cryptochrome mRNA levels display a synchronous oscillation in all conditions tested and persist, albeit with reduced amplitude, during the first day in constant light as well as constant darkness. More importantly, the signal for the period and cryptochrome oscillations is set by the light-on signal. These results, together with phylogenetic analyses, indicate that Nasonia's period and cryptochrome display characteristics of homologous genes in other hymenopteran species.
Keywords: Circadian clock; Nasonia vitripennis; clock genes; cryptochrome; hymenoptera; period; photoperiodism; real-time qPCR.