Reitzel AM, Behrendt L, Tarrant AM
PLoS ONE 5 (9) e12805 [2010-09-21; online 2010-09-21]
Circadian rhythms in behavior and physiology are the observable phenotypes from cycles in expression of, interactions between, and degradation of the underlying molecular components. In bilaterian animals, the core molecular components include Timeless-Timeout, photoreceptive cryptochromes, and several members of the basic-loop-helix-Per-ARNT-Sim (bHLH-PAS) family. While many of core circadian genes are conserved throughout the Bilateria, their specific roles vary among species. Here, we identify and experimentally study the rhythmic gene expression of conserved circadian clock members in a sea anemone in order to characterize this gene network in a member of the phylum Cnidaria and to infer critical components of the clockwork used in the last common ancestor of cnidarians and bilaterians. We identified homologs of circadian regulatory genes in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, including a gene most similar to Timeout, three cryptochromes, and several key bHLH-PAS transcription factors. We then maintained N. vectensis either in complete darkness or in a 12 hour light: 12 hour dark cycle in three different light treatments (blue only, full spectrum, blue-depleted). Gene expression varied in response to light cycle and light treatment, with a particularly strong pattern observed for NvClock. The cryptochromes more closely related to the light-sensitive clade of cryptochromes were upregulated in light treatments that included blue wavelengths. With co-immunoprecipitation, we determined that heterodimerization between CLOCK and CYCLE is conserved within N. vectensis. Additionally, we identified E-box motifs, DNA sequences recognized by the CLOCK:CYCLE heterodimer, upstream of genes showing rhythmic expression. This study reveals conserved molecular and functional components of the circadian clock that were in place at the divergence of the Cnidaria and Bilateria, suggesting the animal circadian clockwork is more ancient than previous data suggest. Characterizing circadian regulation in a cnidarian provides insight into the early origins of animal circadian rhythms and molecular regulation of environmentally cued behaviors.