Background: Circadian clocks are found in nearly all organisms, from bacteria to mammals, and ensure that behavioral and physiological processes occur at optimal times of day and in the correct temporal order. It is becoming increasingly clear that chronic circadian misalignment (CCM), such as occurs in shift workers or as a result of aberrant sleeping and eating schedules common to modern society, has profound metabolic and cognitive consequences, but the proximate mechanisms connecting CCM with reduced organismal health are unknown. Furthermore, it has been difficult to disentangle whether the health effects are directly induced by misalignment or are secondary to the alterations in sleep and activity levels that commonly occur with CCM. Here, we investigated the consequences of CCM in the powerful model system of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. We subjected flies to daily 4-h phase delays in the light-dark schedule and used the Drosophila Activity Monitoring (DAM) system to continuously track locomotor activity and sleep while simultaneously monitoring fly lifespan.
Results: Consistent with previous results, we find that exposing flies to CCM leads to a ~ 15% reduction in median lifespan in both male and female flies. Importantly, we demonstrate that the reduced longevity occurs independent of changes in overall sleep or activity. To uncover potential molecular mechanisms of CCM-induced reduction in lifespan, we conducted whole body RNA-sequencing to assess differences in gene transcription between control and misaligned flies. CCM caused progressive, large-scale changes in gene expression characterized by upregulation of genes involved in response to toxic substances, aging and oxidative stress, and downregulation of genes involved in regulation of development and differentiation, gene expression and biosynthesis.
Conclusions: Many of these gene expression changes mimic those that occur during natural aging, consistent with the idea that CCM results in premature organismal decline, however, we found that genes involved in lipid metabolism are overrepresented among those that are differentially regulated by CCM and aging. This category of genes is also among the earliest to exhibit CCM-induced changes in expression, thus highlighting altered lipid metabolism as a potentially important mediator of the negative health consequences of CCM.
Keywords: Circadian misalignment; Drosophila; Longevity; RNA-sequencing.