Researchers identify unique circadian rhythm photoreceptor

March 29, 2000 -- When an animal is exposed to constant, intense light, the internal clock goes haywire, losing all sense of night and day. Fruit flies exhibit the same reaction, and humans are predicted to respond similarly. In the laboratories of Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall at Brandeis University, however, there is a strain of mutant flies that maintains a steady clock when barraged with intense light.

The flies carry a crippled light-reactive pigment called a cryptochrome. Experiments by Rosbash and his colleagues now indicate that the fly cryptochrome dCRY is perhaps the only photoreceptor molecule through which light regulates the fly's circadian rhythm, the near-universal 24-hour biological clock that governs sleep and wakefulness, rest and activity, body temperature, cardiac output, and many other functions.

In an article published in the March 30, 2000 issue of the journal Nature, Rosbash, Hall and Patrick Emery at Brandeis University, and Ralf Stanewsky of the University of Regensburg in Germany, show that mutant flies, called cryb flies, that have a faulty cryptochrome gene dCRY exhibit an aberrant response to intense, constant illumination.

"A hallmark of every experimental organism from fruit flies to mice is that intense, constant light causes the normal circadian rhythm to go into arrhythmia, to essentially go whacko," said Rosbash.

"However, we found that these cryb mutants did not show such arrhythmia under constant light, as measured by their activity. If there were circadian photoreceptors other than dCRY, then constant light should have produced such arrhythmia.

"To find that these flies remain rhythmic under constant light really starts to prove that dCRY is the major circadian rhythm photoreceptor in this organism because there are

Contact: Jim Keeley
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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