The tail of cryptochromes: an intrinsically disordered cog within the mammalian circadian clock

Cell Commun Signal. 2020 Nov 16;18(1):182. doi: 10.1186/s12964-020-00665-z.


Cryptochrome (CRY) proteins play an essential role in regulating mammalian circadian rhythms. CRY is composed of a structured N-terminal domain known as the photolyase homology region (PHR), which is tethered to an intrinsically disordered C-terminal tail. The PHR domain is a critical hub for binding other circadian clock components such as CLOCK, BMAL1, PERIOD, or the ubiquitin ligases FBXL3 and FBXL21. While the isolated PHR domain is necessary and sufficient to generate circadian rhythms, removing or modifying the cryptochrome tails modulates the amplitude and/or periodicity of circadian rhythms, suggesting that they play important regulatory roles in the molecular circadian clock. In this commentary, we will discuss how recent studies of these intrinsically disordered tails are helping to establish a general and evolutionarily conserved model for CRY function, where the function of PHR domains is modulated by reversible interactions with their intrinsically disordered tails. Video abstract.

Keywords: Autoinhibition; C-terminal tail; Circadian rhythms; Cryptochrome; Intrinsically disordered protein; Intrinsically disordered region.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • CLOCK Proteins / chemistry
  • CLOCK Proteins / metabolism
  • Circadian Clocks*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Cryptochromes / chemistry*
  • Cryptochromes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins / chemistry*
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mammals / metabolism*


  • Cryptochromes
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins
  • CLOCK Proteins