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1.  The Neurospora circadian clock: simple or complex? 
The fungus Neurospora crassa is being used by a number of research groups as a model organism to investigate circadian (daily) rhythmicity. In this review we concentrate on recent work relating to the complexity of the circadian system in this organism. We discuss: the advantages of Neurospora as a model system for clock studies; the frequency (frq), white collar-1 and white collar-2 genes and their roles in rhythmicity; the phenomenon of rhythmicity in null frq mutants and its implications for clock mechanisms; the study of output pathways using clock-controlled genes; other rhythms in fungi; mathematical modelling of the Neurospora circadian system; and the application of new technologies to the study of Neurospora rhythmicity. We conclude that there may be many gene products involved in the clock mechanism, there may be multiple interacting oscillators comprising the clock mechanism, there may be feedback from output pathways onto the oscillator(s) and from the oscillator(s) onto input pathways, and there may be several independent clocks coexisting in one organism. Thus even a relatively simple lower eukaryote can be used to address questions about a complex, networked circadian system.
PMCID: PMC1088545  PMID: 11710976
2.  Genetic interactions between clock mutations in Neurospora crassa: can they help us to understand complexity? 
Recent work on circadian clocks in Neurospora has primarily focused on the frequency (frq) and white-collar (wc) loci. However, a number of other genes are known that affect either the period or temperature compensation of the rhythm. These include the period (no relationship to the period gene of Drosophila) genes and a number of genes that affect cellular metabolism. How these other loci fit into the circadian system is not known, and metabolic effects on the clock are typically not considered in single-oscillator models. Recent evidence has pointed to multiple oscillators in Neurospora, at least one of which is predicted to incorporate metabolic processes. Here, the Neurospora clock-affecting mutations will be reviewed and their genetic interactions discussed in the context of a more complex clock model involving two coupled oscillators: a FRQ/WC-based oscillator and a 'frq-less' oscillator that may involve metabolic components.
PMCID: PMC1088547  PMID: 11710978
3.  Temperature-Sensitive and Circadian Oscillators of Neurospora crassa Share Components 
Genetics  2012;191(1):119-131.
In Neurospora crassa, the interactions between products of the frequency (frq), frequency-interacting RNA helicase (frh), white collar-1 (wc-1), and white collar-2 (wc-2) genes establish a molecular circadian clockwork, called the FRQ-WC-Oscillator (FWO), which is required for the generation of molecular and overt circadian rhythmicity. In strains carrying nonfunctional frq alleles, circadian rhythms in asexual spore development (conidiation) are abolished in constant conditions, yet conidiation remains rhythmic in temperature cycles. Certain characteristics of these temperature-synchronized rhythms have been attributed to the activity of a FRQ-less oscillator (FLO). The molecular components of this FLO are as yet unknown. To test whether the FLO depends on other circadian clock components, we created a strain that carries deletions in the frq, wc-1, wc-2, and vivid (vvd) genes. Conidiation in this ΔFWO strain was still synchronized to cyclic temperature programs, but temperature-induced rhythmicity was distinct from that seen in single frq knockout strains. These results and other evidence presented indicate that components of the FWO are part of the temperature-induced FLO.
PMCID: PMC3338254  PMID: 22367035
4.  Transcription Factors in Light and Circadian Clock Signaling Networks Revealed by Genomewide Mapping of Direct Targets for Neurospora White Collar Complex ▿† 
Eukaryotic Cell  2010;9(10):1549-1556.
Light signaling pathways and circadian clocks are inextricably linked and have profound effects on behavior in most organisms. Here, we used chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) sequencing to uncover direct targets of the Neurospora crassa circadian regulator White Collar Complex (WCC). The WCC is a blue-light receptor and the key transcription factor of the circadian oscillator. It controls a transcriptional network that regulates ∼20% of all genes, generating daily rhythms and responses to light. We found that in response to light, WCC binds to hundreds of genomic regions, including the promoters of previously identified clock- and light-regulated genes. We show that WCC directly controls the expression of 24 transcription factor genes, including the clock-controlled adv-1 gene, which controls a circadian output pathway required for daily rhythms in development. Our findings provide links between the key circadian activator and effectors in downstream regulatory pathways.
PMCID: PMC2950426  PMID: 20675579
5.  Methylation of Histone H3 on Lysine 4 by the Lysine Methyltransferase SET1 Protein Is Needed for Normal Clock Gene Expression* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2013;288(12):8380-8390.
Background: Eukaryotic circadian clocks require chromatin modifications and remodeling.
Results: SET1 is required for proper expression of the Neurospora clock gene frequency (frq). SET1 modifies chromatin at frq with the peak in H3K4me3 occurring after the peak in activation.
Conclusion: H3K4 methylation appears to mitigate White Collar complex (WCC)-mediated expression.
Significance: Chromatin is a key component underlying circadian oscillations in gene expression.
The circadian oscillator controls time-of-day gene expression by a network of interconnected feedback loops and is reset by light. The requisite for chromatin regulation in eukaryotic transcription necessitates temporal regulation of histone-modifying and chromatin-remodeling enzymes for proper clock function. CHD1 is known to bind H3K4me3 in mammalian cells, and Neurospora CHD1 is required for proper regulation of the frequency (frq) gene. Based on this, we examined a strain lacking SET1 to determine the role of H3K4 methylation in clock- and light-mediated frq regulation. Expression of frq was altered in strains lacking set1 under both circadian- and light-regulated gene expression. There is a delay in the phasing of H3K4me3 relative to the peak in frq expression. White Collar 2 (WC-2) association with the frq promoter persists longer in Δset1, suggesting a more permissible chromatin state. Surprisingly, SET1 is required for DNA methylation in the frq promoter, indicating a dependence on H3K4me for DNA methylation. The data support a model where SET1 is needed for proper regulation by modulating chromatin at frq.
PMCID: PMC3605655  PMID: 23319591
Chromatin Immunoprecipitation (ChIP); Chromatin Modification; Circadian Rhythms; Gene Regulation; Neurospora
6.  Circadian Clock-Specific Roles for the Light Response Protein WHITE COLLAR-2 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2001;21(8):2619-2628.
To understand the role of white collar-2 in the Neurospora circadian clock, we examined alleles of wc-2 thought to encode partially functional proteins. We found that wc-2 allele ER24 contained a conservative mutation in the zinc finger. This mutation results in reduced levels of circadian rhythm-critical clock gene products, frq mRNA and FRQ protein, and in a lengthened period of the circadian clock. In addition, this mutation altered a second canonical property of the clock, temperature compensation: as temperature increased, period length decreased substantially. This temperature compensation defect correlated with a temperature-dependent increase in overall FRQ protein levels, with the relative increase being greater in wc-2 (ER24) than in wild type, while overall frq mRNA levels were largely unaltered by temperature. We suggest that this temperature-dependent increase in FRQ levels partially rescues the lowered levels of FRQ resulting from the wc-2 (ER24) defect, yielding a shorter period at higher temperatures. Thus, normal activity of the essential clock component WC-2, a positive regulator of frq, is critical for establishing period length and temperature compensation in this circadian system.
PMCID: PMC86893  PMID: 11283242
7.  The exosome regulates circadian gene expression in a posttranscriptional negative feedback loop 
Cell  2009;138(6):1236-1246.
The eukaryotic circadian oscillators consist of autoregulatory negative feedback loops. However, little is known about the role of post-transcriptional regulation of RNA in circadian oscillators. In the Neurospora circadian negative feedback loop, FRQ and FRH form the FFC complex that represses frq transcription. Here we show that FFC also binds frq RNA and interacts with the exosome to regulate frq RNA decay. Consequently, frq RNA is robustly rhythmic as it is more stable when FRQ levels are low. Silencing of RRP44, the catalytic subunit of the exosome, elevates frq RNA levels and impairs clock function. In addition, rrp44 is a clock-controlled gene and a direct target of the WHITE COLLAR complex, and RRP44 controls the circadian expression of at least one ccg. Taken together, these results suggest that FFC and the exosome are part of a post-transcriptional negative feedback loop that regulates frq transcript levels and the circadian output pathway.
PMCID: PMC2772104  PMID: 19747717
8.  Simple Sequence Repeats Provide a Substrate for Phenotypic Variation in the Neurospora crassa Circadian Clock 
PLoS ONE  2007;2(8):e795.
WHITE COLLAR-1 (WC-1) mediates interactions between the circadian clock and the environment by acting as both a core clock component and as a blue light photoreceptor in Neurospora crassa. Loss of the amino-terminal polyglutamine (NpolyQ) domain in WC-1 results in an arrhythmic circadian clock; this data is consistent with this simple sequence repeat (SSR) being essential for clock function.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Since SSRs are often polymorphic in length across natural populations, we reasoned that investigating natural variation of the WC-1 NpolyQ may provide insight into its role in the circadian clock. We observed significant phenotypic variation in the period, phase and temperature compensation of circadian regulated asexual conidiation across 143 N. crassa accessions. In addition to the NpolyQ, we identified two other simple sequence repeats in WC-1. The sizes of all three WC-1 SSRs correlated with polymorphisms in other clock genes, latitude and circadian period length. Furthermore, in a cross between two N. crassa accessions, the WC-1 NpolyQ co-segregated with period length.
Natural variation of the WC-1 NpolyQ suggests a mechanism by which period length can be varied and selected for by the local environment that does not deleteriously affect WC-1 activity. Understanding natural variation in the N. crassa circadian clock will facilitate an understanding of how fungi exploit their environments.
PMCID: PMC1949147  PMID: 17726525
9.  Robustness from flexibility in the fungal circadian clock 
BMC Systems Biology  2010;4:88.
Robustness is a central property of living systems, enabling function to be maintained against environmental perturbations. A key challenge is to identify the structures in biological circuits that confer system-level properties such as robustness. Circadian clocks allow organisms to adapt to the predictable changes of the 24-hour day/night cycle by generating endogenous rhythms that can be entrained to the external cycle. In all organisms, the clock circuits typically comprise multiple interlocked feedback loops controlling the rhythmic expression of key genes. Previously, we showed that such architectures increase the flexibility of the clock's rhythmic behaviour. We now test the relationship between flexibility and robustness, using a mathematical model of the circuit controlling conidiation in the fungus Neurospora crassa.
The circuit modelled in this work consists of a central negative feedback loop, in which the frequency (frq) gene inhibits its transcriptional activator white collar-1 (wc-1), interlocked with a positive feedback loop in which FRQ protein upregulates WC-1 production. Importantly, our model reproduces the observed entrainment of this circuit under light/dark cycles with varying photoperiod and cycle duration. Our simulations show that whilst the level of frq mRNA is driven directly by the light input, the falling phase of FRQ protein, a molecular correlate of conidiation, maintains a constant phase that is uncoupled from the times of dawn and dusk. The model predicts the behaviour of mutants that uncouple WC-1 production from FRQ's positive feedback, and shows that the positive loop enhances the buffering of conidiation phase against seasonal photoperiod changes. This property is quantified using Kitano's measure for the overall robustness of a regulated system output. Further analysis demonstrates that this functional robustness is a consequence of the greater evolutionary flexibility conferred on the circuit by the interlocking loop structure.
Our model shows that the behaviour of the fungal clock in light-dark cycles can be accounted for by a transcription-translation feedback model of the central FRQ-WC oscillator. More generally, we provide an example of a biological circuit in which greater flexibility yields improved robustness, while also introducing novel sensitivity analysis techniques applicable to a broader range of cellular oscillators.
PMCID: PMC2913929  PMID: 20576110
10.  Attenuated Circadian Rhythms in Mice Lacking the Prokineticin 2 Gene 
Circadian clocks drive daily rhythms in virtually all organisms. In mammals, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is recognized as the master clock that synchronizes central and peripheral oscillators to evoke circadian rhythms of diverse physiology and behavior. How the timing information is transmitted from the SCN clock to generate overt circadian rhythms is essentially unknown. Prokineticin 2 (PK2), a clock-controlled gene that encodes a secreted protein, has been indicated as a candidate SCN clock output signal that regulates circadian locomotor rhythm. Here we report the generation and analysis of PK2-null mice. The reduction of locomotor rhythms in PK2-null mice was apparent in both hybrid and inbred genetic backgrounds. PK2-null mice also displayed significantly reduced rhythmicity for a variety of other physiological and behavioral parameters, including sleep—wake cycle, body temperature, circulating glucocorticoid and glucose levels, as well as the expression of peripheral clock genes. In addition, PK2-null mice showed accelerated acquisition of food anticipatory activity during a daytime food restriction. We conclude that PK2, acting as a SCN output factor, is important for the maintenance of robust circadian rhythms.
PMCID: PMC2713041  PMID: 17093083
circadian rhythm; prokineticin 2; knock-out; suprachiasmatic nucleus; sleep; locomotor
11.  Global transcriptome analysis reveals circadian regulation of key pathways in plant growth and development 
Genome Biology  2008;9(8):R130.
Transcript abundance of roughly a third of expressed Arabidopsis thaliana genes is circadian-regulated.
As nonmotile organisms, plants must rapidly adapt to ever-changing environmental conditions, including those caused by daily light/dark cycles. One important mechanism for anticipating and preparing for such predictable changes is the circadian clock. Nearly all organisms have circadian oscillators that, when they are in phase with the Earth's rotation, provide a competitive advantage. In order to understand how circadian clocks benefit plants, it is necessary to identify the pathways and processes that are clock controlled.
We have integrated information from multiple circadian microarray experiments performed on Arabidopsis thaliana in order to better estimate the fraction of the plant transcriptome that is circadian regulated. Analyzing the promoters of clock-controlled genes, we identified circadian clock regulatory elements correlated with phase-specific transcript accumulation. We have also identified several physiological pathways enriched for clock-regulated changes in transcript abundance, suggesting they may be modulated by the circadian clock.
Our analysis suggests that transcript abundance of roughly one-third of expressed A. thaliana genes is circadian regulated. We found four promoter elements, enriched in the promoters of genes with four discrete phases, which may contribute to the time-of-day specific changes in the transcript abundance of these genes. Clock-regulated genes are over-represented among all of the classical plant hormone and multiple stress response pathways, suggesting that all of these pathways are influenced by the circadian clock. Further exploration of the links between the clock and these pathways will lead to a better understanding of how the circadian clock affects plant growth and leads to improved fitness.
PMCID: PMC2575520  PMID: 18710561
During the past decade, the molecular mechanisms underlying the mammalian circadian clock have been defined. A core set of circadian clock genes common to most cells throughout the body code for proteins that feed back to regulate not only their own expression, but also that of clock output genes and pathways throughout the genome. The circadian system represents a complex multioscillatory temporal network in which an ensemble of coupled neurons comprising the principal circadian pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus is entrained to the daily light/dark cycle and subsequently transmits synchronizing signals to local circadian oscillators in peripheral tissues. Only recently has the importance of this system to the regulation of such fundamental biological processes as the cell cycle and metabolism become apparent. A convergence of data from microarray studies, quantitative trait locus analysis, and mutagenesis screens demonstrates the pervasiveness of circadian regulation in biological systems. The importance of maintaining the internal temporal homeostasis conferred by the circadian system is revealed by animal models in which mutations in genes coding for core components of the clock result in disease, including cancer and disturbances to the sleep/wake cycle.
PMCID: PMC3770722  PMID: 15485355
circadian clock genes; suprachiasmatic nucleus; complex traits; ENU mutagenesis; sleep-wake cycle
13.  Quantitative analysis of regulatory flexibility under changing environmental conditions 
Day length changes with the seasons in temperate latitudes, affecting the many biological rhythms that entrain to the day/night cycle: we measure these effects on the expression of Arabidopsis clock genes, using RNA and reporter gene readouts, with a new method of phase analysis.Dusk sensitivity is proposed as a simple, natural and general mathematical measure to analyse and manipulate the changing phase of a clock output relative to the change in the day/night cycle.Dusk sensitivity shows how increasing the numbers of feedback loops in the Arabidopsis clock models allows more flexible regulation, consistent with a previously-proposed, general operating principle of biological networks.The Arabidopsis clock genes show flexibility of regulation that is characteristic of a three-loop clock model, validating aspects of the model and the operating principle, but some clock output genes show greater flexibility arising from direct light regulation.
The analysis of dynamic, non-linear regulation with the aid of mechanistic models is central to Systems Biology. This study compares the predictions of mechanistic, mathematical models of the circadian clock with molecular time-series data on rhythmic gene expression in the higher plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Analysis of the models helps us to understand (explain and predict) how the clock gene circuit balances regulation by external and endogenous factors to achieve particular behaviours. Such multi-factorial regulation is ubiquitous in, and characteristic of, living systems.
The Earth's rotation causes predictable changes in the environment, notably in the availability of sunlight for photosynthesis. Many biological processes are driven by the environmental input via sensory pathways, for example, from photoreceptors. Circadian clocks provide an alternative strategy. These endogenous, 24-h rhythms can drive biological processes that anticipate the regular environmental changes, rather than merely responding. Many rhythmic processes have both light and clock control. Indeed, the clock components themselves must balance internal timing with external inputs, because circadian clocks are reset daily through light regulation of one or more clock components. This process of entrainment is complicated by the change in day length. When the times of dawn and dusk move apart in summer, and closer together in winter, does the clock track dawn, track dusk or interpolate between them?
In plants, the clock controls leaf and petal movements, the opening and closing of stomatal pores, the discharge of floral fragrances, and many metabolic activities, especially those associated with photosynthesis. Centuries of physiological studies have shown that these rhythms can behave differently. Flowering in Ipomoea nil (Pharbitis nil, Japanese morning glory) is controlled by a rhythm that tracks the time of dusk, to give a classic example. We showed that two other rhythms associated with vegetative growth track dawn in this species (Figure 5A), so the clock system allows flexible regulation.
The relatively small number of components involved in the circadian clockwork makes it an ideal candidate for mathematical modelling. Molecular genetic studies in a variety of model eukaryotes have shown that the circadian rhythm is generated by a network of 6–20 genes. These genes form feedback loops generating a rhythm in mRNA production. A single negative feedback loop in which a gene encodes a protein that, after several hours, turns off transcription is capable of generating a circadian rhythm, in principle. A single light input can entrain the clock to ‘local time', synchronised with a light–dark cycle. However, real circadian clocks have proven to be more complicated than this, with multiple light inputs and interlocked feedback loops.
We have previously argued from mathematical analysis that multi-loop networks increase the flexibility of regulation (Rand et al, 2004) and have shown that appropriately deployed flexibility can confer functional robustness (Akman et al, 2010). Here we test whether that flexibility can be demonstrated in vivo, in the model plant, A. thaliana. The Arabidopsis clock mechanism comprises a feedback loop in which two partially redundant, myb transcription factors, LATE ELONGATED HYPOCOTYL (LHY) and CIRCADIAN CLOCK ASSOCIATED 1 (CCA1), repress the expression of their activator, TIMING OF CAB EXPRESSION 1 (TOC1). We previously modelled this single-loop circuit and showed that it was not capable of recreating important data (Locke et al, 2005a). An extended, two-loop model was developed to match observed behaviours, incorporating a hypothetical gene Y, for which the best identified candidate was the GIGANTEA gene (GI) (Locke et al, 2005b). Two further models incorporated the TOC1 homologues PSEUDO-RESPONSE REGULATOR (PRR) 9 and PRR7 (Locke et al, 2006; Zeilinger et al, 2006). In these circuits, a morning oscillator (LHY/CCA1–PRR9/7) is coupled to an evening oscillator (Y/GI–TOC1) via the original LHY/CCA1–TOC1 loop.
These clock models, like those for all other organisms, were developed using data from simple conditions of constant light, darkness or 12-h light–12-h dark cycles. We therefore tested how the clock genes in Arabidopsis responded to light–dark cycles with different photoperiods, from 3 h light to 18 h light per 24-h cycle (Edinburgh, 56° North latitude, has 17.5 h light in midsummer). The time-series assays of mRNA and in vivo reporter gene images showed a range of peak times for different genes, depending on the photoperiod (Figure 5C). A new data analysis method, mFourfit, was introduced to measure the peak times, in the Biological Rhythms Analysis Software Suite (BRASS v3.0). None of the genes showed the dusk-tracking behaviour characteristic of the Ipomoea flowering rhythm. The one-, two- and three-loop models were analysed to understand the observed patterns. A new mathematical measure, dusk sensitivity, was introduced to measure the change in timing of a model component versus a change in the time of dusk. The one- and two-loop models tracked dawn and dusk, respectively, under all conditions. Only the three-loop model (Figure 5B) had the flexibility required to match the photoperiod-dependent changes that we found in vivo, and in particular the unexpected, V-shaped pattern in the peak time of TOC1 expression. This pattern of regulation depends on the structure and light inputs to the model's evening oscillator, so the in vivo data supported this aspect of the model. LHY and CCA1 gene expression under short photoperiods showed greater dusk sensitivity, in the interval 2–6 h before dawn, than the three-loop model predicted, so these data will help to constrain future models.
The approach described here could act as a template for experimental biologists seeking to understand biological regulation using dynamic, experimental perturbations and time-series data. Simulation of mathematical models (despite known imperfections) can provide contrasting hypotheses that guide understanding. The system's detailed behaviour is complex, so a natural and general measure such as dusk sensitivity is helpful to focus on one property of the system. We used the measure to compare models, and to predict how this property could be manipulated. To enable additional analysis of this system, we provide the time-series data and experimental metadata online.
The circadian clock controls 24-h rhythms in many biological processes, allowing appropriate timing of biological rhythms relative to dawn and dusk. Known clock circuits include multiple, interlocked feedback loops. Theory suggested that multiple loops contribute the flexibility for molecular rhythms to track multiple phases of the external cycle. Clear dawn- and dusk-tracking rhythms illustrate the flexibility of timing in Ipomoea nil. Molecular clock components in Arabidopsis thaliana showed complex, photoperiod-dependent regulation, which was analysed by comparison with three contrasting models. A simple, quantitative measure, Dusk Sensitivity, was introduced to compare the behaviour of clock models with varying loop complexity. Evening-expressed clock genes showed photoperiod-dependent dusk sensitivity, as predicted by the three-loop model, whereas the one- and two-loop models tracked dawn and dusk, respectively. Output genes for starch degradation achieved dusk-tracking expression through light regulation, rather than a dusk-tracking rhythm. Model analysis predicted which biochemical processes could be manipulated to extend dusk tracking. Our results reveal how an operating principle of biological regulators applies specifically to the plant circadian clock.
PMCID: PMC3010117  PMID: 21045818
Arabidopsis thaliana; biological clocks; dynamical systems; gene regulatory networks; mathematical models; photoperiodism
14.  Phosphorylation of FREQUENCY Protein by Casein Kinase II Is Necessary for the Function of the Neurospora Circadian Clock 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2003;23(17):6221-6228.
FREQUENCY (FRQ), a key component of the Neurospora circadian clock, is progressively phosphorylated after its synthesis. Previously, we identified casein kinase II (CKII) as a kinase that phosphorylates FRQ. Disruption of the catalytic subunit of CKII abolishes the clock function; it also causes severe defects in growth and development. To further establish the role of CKII in clock function, one of the CKII regulatory subunit genes, ckb1, was disrupted in Neurospora. In the ckb1 mutant strain, FRQ proteins are hypophosphorylated and more stable than in the wild-type strain, and circadian rhythms of conidiation and FRQ protein oscillation were observed to have long periods but low amplitudes. These data suggest that phosphorylation of FRQ by CKII regulates FRQ stability and the function of the circadian feedback loop. In addition, mutations of several putative CKII phosphorylation sites of FRQ led to hypophosphorylation of FRQ and long-period rhythms. Both CKA and CKB1 proteins are found in the cytoplasm and in the nucleus, but their expressions and localization are not controlled by the clock. Finally, disruption of a Neurospora casein kinase I (CKI) gene, ck-1b, showed that it is not required for clock function despite its important role in growth and developmental processes. Together, these data indicate that CKII is an important component of the Neurospora circadian clock.
PMCID: PMC180927  PMID: 12917343
15.  Global Profiling of Rice and Poplar Transcriptomes Highlights Key Conserved Circadian-Controlled Pathways and cis-Regulatory Modules 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e16907.
Circadian clocks provide an adaptive advantage through anticipation of daily and seasonal environmental changes. In plants, the central clock oscillator is regulated by several interlocking feedback loops. It was shown that a substantial proportion of the Arabidopsis genome cycles with phases of peak expression covering the entire day. Synchronized transcriptome cycling is driven through an extensive network of diurnal and clock-regulated transcription factors and their target cis-regulatory elements. Study of the cycling transcriptome in other plant species could thus help elucidate the similarities and differences and identify hubs of regulation common to monocot and dicot plants.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Using a combination of oligonucleotide microarrays and data mining pipelines, we examined daily rhythms in gene expression in one monocotyledonous and one dicotyledonous plant, rice and poplar, respectively. Cycling transcriptomes were interrogated under different diurnal (driven) and circadian (free running) light and temperature conditions. Collectively, photocycles and thermocycles regulated about 60% of the expressed nuclear genes in rice and poplar. Depending on the condition tested, up to one third of oscillating Arabidopsis-poplar-rice orthologs were phased within three hours of each other suggesting a high degree of conservation in terms of rhythmic gene expression. We identified clusters of rhythmically co-expressed genes and searched their promoter sequences to identify phase-specific cis-elements, including elements that were conserved in the promoters of Arabidopsis, poplar, and rice.
Our results show that the cycling patterns of many circadian clock genes are highly conserved across poplar, rice, and Arabidopsis. The expression of many orthologous genes in key metabolic and regulatory pathways is diurnal and/or circadian regulated and phased to similar times of day. Our results confirm previous findings in Arabidopsis of three major classes of cis-regulatory modules within the plant circadian network: the morning (ME, GBOX), evening (EE, GATA), and midnight (PBX/TBX/SBX) modules. Identification of identical overrepresented motifs in the promoters of cycling genes from different species suggests that the core diurnal/circadian cis-regulatory network is deeply conserved between mono- and dicotyledonous species.
PMCID: PMC3111414  PMID: 21694767
16.  REV-ERBα Participates in Circadian SREBP Signaling and Bile Acid Homeostasis 
PLoS Biology  2009;7(9):e1000181.
The nuclear receptor REV-ERBα shapes the daily activity profile of Sterol Response Element Binding Protein (SREBP) and thereby participates in the circadian control of cholesterol and bile acid synthesis in the liver.
In mammals, many aspects of behavior and physiology, and in particular cellular metabolism, are coordinated by the circadian timing system. Molecular clocks are thought to rely on negative feedback loops in clock gene expression that engender oscillations in the accumulation of transcriptional regulatory proteins, such as the orphan receptor REV-ERBα. Circadian transcription factors then drive daily rhythms in the expression of clock-controlled output genes, for example genes encoding enzymes and regulators of cellular metabolism. To gain insight into clock output functions of REV-ERBα, we carried out genome-wide transcriptome profiling experiments with liver RNA from wild-type mice, Rev-erbα knock-out mice, or REV-ERBα overexpressing mice. On the basis of these genetic loss- and gain-of-function experiments, we concluded that REV-ERBα participates in the circadian modulation of sterol regulatory element-binding protein (SREBP) activity, and thereby in the daily expression of SREBP target genes involved in cholesterol and lipid metabolism. This control is exerted via the cyclic transcription of Insig2, encoding a trans-membrane protein that sequesters SREBP proteins to the endoplasmic reticulum membranes and thereby interferes with the proteolytic activation of SREBPs in Golgi membranes. REV-ERBα also participates in the cyclic expression of cholesterol-7α-hydroxylase (CYP7A1), the rate-limiting enzyme in converting cholesterol to bile acids. Our findings suggest that this control acts via the stimulation of LXR nuclear receptors by cyclically produced oxysterols. In conclusion, our study suggests that rhythmic cholesterol and bile acid metabolism is not just driven by alternating feeding–fasting cycles, but also by REV-ERBα, a component of the circadian clockwork circuitry.
Author Summary
The mammalian circadian timing system has a hierarchical architecture: a central pacemaker in the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizes subsidiary oscillators present in most peripheral cell types. In both SCN neurons and peripheral cells, circadian oscillators are thought to rely on two negative feedback loops. A major feedback loop involves the two cryptochromes CRY1 and CRY2 and the two period proteins PER1 and PER2, which serve as transcriptional repressors for their own genes. An accessory feedback loop couples the expression and activity of the transcriptional activators CLOCK and BMAL1 to the expression of cryptochrome and period proteins. The orphan nuclear receptor REV-ERBα is a key player in this accessory feedback loop, in that it periodically represses Bmal1 transcription. In liver, molecular clocks mediate the temporal gating of metabolic processes. Here we demonstrate that hepatocyte clocks participate in the control of cholesterol and bile acid homeostasis. According to this scenario, REV-ERBα shapes the circadian expression pattern of insulin-induced gene 2 (INSIG2), a resident protein of the endoplasmic reticulum that interferes with the proteolytic activation of sterol response element binding proteins (SREBPs). In turn SREBPs govern the rhythmic expression of enzymes with key functions in sterol and fatty acid synthesis. The circadian production of sterols (in particular oxysterols) may engender the cyclic activation of LXR nuclear receptors, which serve as critical activators of Cyp7a1 transcription. CYP7A1, also known as cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase, catalyzes the rate-limiting step in bile acid synthesis.
PMCID: PMC2726950  PMID: 19721697
17.  Isoform switching facilitates period control in the Neurospora crassa circadian clock 
A striking and defining feature of circadian clocks is the small variation in period over a physiological range of temperatures. This is referred to as temperature compensation, although recent work has suggested that the variation observed is a specific, adaptive control of period. Moreover, given that many biological rate constants have a Q10 of around 2, it is remarkable that such clocks remain rhythmic under significant temperature changes. We introduce a new mathematical model for the Neurospora crassa circadian network incorporating experimental work showing that temperature alters the balance of translation between a short and long form of the FREQUENCY (FRQ) protein. This is used to discuss period control and functionality for the Neurospora system. The model reproduces a broad range of key experimental data on temperature dependence and rhythmicity, both in wild-type and mutant strains. We present a simple mechanism utilising the presence of the FRQ isoforms (isoform switching) by which period control could have evolved, and argue that this regulatory structure may also increase the temperature range where the clock is robustly rhythmic.
PMCID: PMC2267733  PMID: 18277380
circadian clocks; isoform switching; mathematical models; oscillations; temperature compensation
18.  Circadian rhythms in Neurospora crassa: Dynamics of the clock component frequency visualized using a fluorescent reporter 
The frequency (frq) gene of Neurospora crassa has long been considered essential to the function of this organism's circadian rhythm. Increasingly, deciphering the coupling of core oscillator genes such as frq to the output pathways of the circadian rhythm has become a major focus of circadian research. To address this coupling it is critical to have a reporter of circadian activity that can deliver high resolution spatial and temporal information about the dynamics of core oscillatory proteins such as FRQ. However, due to the difficulty of studying the expression of circadian rhythm genes in aerobic N. crassa cultures, little is known about the dynamics of this gene under physiologically realistic conditions. To address these issues we report a fluorescent fusion to the frq gene using a codon optimized version of the mCherry gene. To trace the expression and accumulation of FRQ–mCherryNC (FRQ–mCh) during the circadian rhythm, growing vegetative hyphae were scanned every hour under confocal microscopy (100×). Fluorescence of FRQ–mCh was detected only at the growing edge of the colony, and located in the cytoplasm and nuclei of vegetative hyphae for a distance of approximately 150–200 μm from the apices of leading hyphae. When driven by the frq promoter, apparently there was also a second FRQ entrance into the nucleus during the circadian cycle; however the second entrance had a lower accumulation level than the first entrance. Thus this fluorescent fusion protein has proven useful in tracking the spatial dynamics of the frq protein and has indicated that the dynamics of the FRQ protein's nuclear trafficking may be more complex than previously realized.
PMCID: PMC2935182  PMID: 20051268
Circadian rhythm; mCherryNC; FRQ; ccg-2
19.  Neurospora Clock-Controlled Gene 9 (ccg-9) Encodes Trehalose Synthase: Circadian Regulation of Stress Responses and Development 
Eukaryotic Cell  2002;1(1):33-43.
The circadian clock of Neurospora crassa regulates the rhythmic expression of a number of genes encoding diverse functions which, as an ensemble, are adaptive to life in a rhythmic environment of alternating levels of light and dark, warmth and coolness, and dryness and humidity. Previous differential screens have identified a number of such genes based solely on their cycling expression, including clock-controlled gene 9 (ccg-9). Sequence analysis now shows the predicted CCG-9 polypeptide to be homologous to a novel form of trehalose synthase; as such it would catalyze the synthesis of the disaccharide trehalose, which plays an important role in protecting many cells from environmental stresses. Consistent with this, heat, glucose starvation, and osmotic stress induce ccg-9 transcript accumulation. Surprisingly, however, a parallel role in development is suggested by the finding that inactivation of ccg-9 results in altered conidiophore morphology and abolishes the normal circadian rhythm of asexual macroconidial development. Examination of a clock component, FRQ, in the ccg-9-null strain revealed normal cycling, phosphorylation, and light induction, indicating that loss of the conidiation rhythm is not due to changes in either the circadian oscillator or light input into the clock but pointing instead to a defect in circadian output. These data imply an interplay between a role of trehalose in stress protection and an apparent requirement for trehalose in clock regulation of conidiation under constant environmental conditions. This requirement can be bypassed by a daily light signal which drives a light-entrained rhythm in conidiation in the ccg-9-null strain; this bypass suggests that the trehalose requirement is related to clock control of development and not to the developmental process itself. Circadian control of trehalose synthase suggests a link between clock control of stress responses and that of development.
PMCID: PMC118043  PMID: 12455969
20.  CHD1 Remodels Chromatin and Influences Transient DNA Methylation at the Clock Gene frequency 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(7):e1002166.
Circadian-regulated gene expression is predominantly controlled by a transcriptional negative feedback loop, and it is evident that chromatin modifications and chromatin remodeling are integral to this process in eukaryotes. We previously determined that multiple ATP–dependent chromatin-remodeling enzymes function at frequency (frq). In this report, we demonstrate that the Neurospora homologue of chd1 is required for normal remodeling of chromatin at frq and is required for normal frq expression and sustained rhythmicity. Surprisingly, our studies of CHD1 also revealed that DNA sequences within the frq promoter are methylated, and deletion of chd1 results in expansion of this methylated domain. DNA methylation of the frq locus is altered in strains bearing mutations in a variety of circadian clock genes, including frq, frh, wc-1, and the gene encoding the frq antisense transcript (qrf). Furthermore, frq methylation depends on the DNA methyltransferase, DIM-2. Phenotypic characterization of Δdim-2 strains revealed an approximate WT period length and a phase advance of approximately 2 hours, indicating that methylation plays only an ancillary role in clock-regulated gene expression. This suggests that DNA methylation, like the antisense transcript, is necessary to establish proper clock phasing but does not control overt rhythmicity. These data demonstrate that the epigenetic state of clock genes is dependent on normal regulation of clock components.
Author Summary
Circadian rhythms facilitate daily changes in gene expression via a transcriptional negative feedback loop. In eukaryotes, chromatin remodeling is an integral part of transcriptional regulation and is proving to be one of the major determinants for the proper timing and amplitude of clock-gene expression. We describe here the action of chromodomain helicase DNA–binding (CHD1), one of two ATP–dependent chromatin-remodeling enzymes required for normal circadian regulated gene expression of the central clock gene frequency (frq). Molecular analysis of strains lacking chd1 indicates that CHD1 is required for remodeling chromatin structure at the frq locus as a part of the daily clock cycle. Moreover, we discovered DNA methylation in the promoter of frq that diminishes over time in the absence of light/dark cycles and determined that normal DNA methylation appears to require a functional clock. The DNA methyltransferase DIM-2 is responsible for this DNA methylation, and the DNA methylation is required for proper phasing of clock gene expression. Collectively, these data demonstrate a close connection among chromatin remodeling, DNA methylation, and clock gene expression.
PMCID: PMC3140994  PMID: 21811413
21.  Genetic and Molecular Characterization of a Cryptochrome from the Filamentous Fungus Neurospora crassa ▿ 
Eukaryotic Cell  2010;9(5):738-750.
In plants and animals, cryptochromes function as either photoreceptors or circadian clock components. We have examined the cryptochrome from the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa and demonstrate that Neurospora cry encodes a DASH-type cryptochrome that appears capable of binding flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) and methenyltetrahydrofolate (MTHF). The cry transcript and CRY protein levels are strongly induced by blue light in a wc-1-dependent manner, and cry transcript is circadianly regulated, with a peak abundance opposite in phase to frq. Neither deletion nor overexpression of cry appears to perturb the free-running circadian clock. However, cry disruption knockout mutants show a small phase delay under circadian entrainment. Using electrophoretic mobility shift assays (EMSA), we show that CRY is capable of binding single- and double-stranded DNA (ssDNA and dsDNA, respectively) and ssRNA and dsRNA. Whole-genome microarray experiments failed to identify substantive transcriptional regulatory activity of cry under our laboratory conditions.
PMCID: PMC2863965  PMID: 20305004
22.  The Neurospora crassa OS MAPK Pathway-Activated Transcription Factor ASL-1 Contributes to Circadian Rhythms In Pathway Responsive Clock-Controlled Genes 
Fungal Genetics and Biology  2012;49(2):180-188.
The OS-pathway mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) cascade of Neurospora crassa is responsible for adaptation to osmotic stress. Activation of the MAPK, OS-2, leads to the transcriptional induction of many genes involved in the osmotic stress response. We previously demonstrated that there is a circadian rhythm in the phosphorylation of OS-2 under constant non-stress inducing conditions. Additionally, several osmotic stress-induced genes are known to be regulated by the circadian clock. Therefore, we investigated if rhythms in activation of OS-2 lead to circadian rhythms in other known stress responsive targets. Here we identify three more osmotic stress induced genes as rhythmic: cat-1, gcy-1, and gcy-3. These genes encode a catalase and two predicted glycerol dehydrogenases thought to be involved in the production of glycerol. Rhythms in these genes depend upon the oscillator component FRQ. To investigate how the circadian signal is propagated to these stress induced genes, we examined the role of the OS-responsive transcription factor, ASL-1, in mediating circadian gene expression. We find that while the asl-1 transcript is induced by several stresses including an osmotic shock, asl-1 mRNA accumulation is not rhythmic. However, we show that ASL-1 is required for generating normal circadian rhythms of some OS-pathway responsive transcripts (bli-3, ccg-1, cat-1, gcy-1 and gcy-3) in the absence of an osmotic stress. These data are consistent with the possibility that post-transcriptional regulation of ASL-1 by the rhythmically activated OS-2 MAPK could play a role in generating rhythms in downstream targets.
PMCID: PMC3278502  PMID: 22240319
Neurospora crassa; Circadian output; MAPK pathway; ATF/CREB transcription factor; Osmotic stress; Oxidative stress
23.  Cross-Talk between the Cellular Redox State and the Circadian System in Neurospora 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(12):e28227.
The circadian system is composed of a number of feedback loops, and multiple feedback loops in the form of oscillators help to maintain stable rhythms. The filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa exhibits a circadian rhythm during asexual spore formation (conidiation banding) and has a major feedback loop that includes the FREQUENCY (FRQ)/WHITE COLLAR (WC) -1 and -2 oscillator (FWO). A mutation in superoxide dismutase (sod)-1, an antioxidant gene, causes a robust and stable circadian rhythm compared with that of wild-type (Wt). However, the mechanisms underlying the functions of reactive oxygen species (ROS) remain unknown. Here, we show that cellular ROS concentrations change in a circadian manner (ROS oscillation), and the amplitudes of ROS oscillation increase with each cycle and then become steady (ROS homeostasis). The ROS oscillation and homeostasis are produced by the ROS-destroying catalases (CATs) and ROS-generating NADPH oxidase (NOX). cat-1 is also induced by illumination, and it reduces ROS levels. Although ROS oscillation persists in the absence of frq, wc-1 or wc-2, its homeostasis is altered. Furthermore, genetic and biochemical evidence reveals that ROS concentration regulates the transcriptional function of WCC and a higher ROS concentration enhances conidiation banding. These findings suggest that the circadian system engages in cross-talk with the cellular redox state via ROS-regulatory factors.
PMCID: PMC3229512  PMID: 22164247
24.  Network news: prime time for systems biology of the plant circadian clock truncated form of the title: Plant circadian clocks 
Whole-transcriptome analyses have established that the plant circadian clock regulates virtually every plant biological process and most prominently hormonal and stress response pathways. Systems biology efforts have successfully modeled the plant central clock machinery and an iterative process of model refinement and experimental validation has contributed significantly to the current view of the central clock machinery. The challenge now is to connect this central clock to the output pathways for understanding how the plant circadian clock contributes to plant growth and fitness in a changing environment. Undoubtedly, systems approaches will be needed to integrate and model the vastly increased volume of experimental data in order to extract meaningful biological information. Thus, we have entered an era of systems modeling, experimental testing, and refinement. This approach, coupled with advances from the genetic and biochemical analyses of clock function, is accelerating our progress towards a comprehensive understanding of the plant circadian clock network.
PMCID: PMC3098449  PMID: 20889330
25.  Neurospora crassa clock-controlled genes are regulated at the level of transcription. 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1991;11(1):558-563.
Although an extensive number of biological processes are under the daily control of the circadian biological clock, little is known about how the clock maintains its regulatory networks within a cell. An important aspect of this temporal control is the daily control of gene expression. Previously we identified two morning-specific genes that are regulated by the clock through daily control of gene expression (J. Loros, S. Denome, and J.C. Dunlap, Science 243:385-388, 1989). We have now introduced a method for transcriptional analysis in Neurospora crassa and used this nuclear run-on procedure to show that regulation of mRNA abundance for these two morning-specific genes occurs at the level of transcription. This transcriptional regulation by the circadian clock provides a basis for isolating circadian rhythm mutants.
PMCID: PMC359668  PMID: 1824715

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