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Concept: Cryptochrome


Seasonal changes in mammalian physiology and behavior are proximately controlled by the annual variation in day length. Long summer and short winter day lengths markedly alter the amplitude of endogenous circadian rhythms and may affect ultradian oscillations, but the threshold photoperiods for inducing these changes are not known. We assessed the effects of short and intermediate day lengths and changes in reproductive physiology on circadian and ultradian rhythms of locomotor activity in Siberian hamsters. Males were maintained in a long photoperiod from birth (15 h light/day; 15 L) and transferred in adulthood to 1 of 7 experimental photoperiods ranging from 14 L to 9 L. Decreases in circadian rhythm (CR) robustness, mesor and amplitude were evident in photoperiods ≤14 L, as were delays in the timing of CR acrophase and expansion of nocturnal activity duration. Nocturnal ultradian rhythms (URs) were comparably prevalent in all day lengths, but 15 L markedly inhibited the expression of light-phase URs. The period (τ'), amplitude and complexity of URs increased in day lengths ≤13 L. Among hamsters that failed to undergo gonadal regression in short day lengths (nonresponders), τ' of the dark-phase UR was longer than in photoresponsive hamsters; in 13 L the incidence and amplitude of light-phase URs were greater in hamsters that did not undergo testicular regression. Day lengths as long as 14 L were sufficient to trigger changes in the waveform of CRs without affecting UR waveform. The transition from a long- to a short-day ultradian phenotype occurred for most UR components at day lengths of 12 L-13 L, thereby establishing different thresholds for CR and UR responses to day length. At the UR-threshold photoperiod of 13 L, differences in gonadal status were largely without effect on most UR parameters.

Concepts: Sleep, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Photoperiodism, Cryptochrome, Ultradian


Cryptochromes are a ubiquitous group of blue-light absorbing flavoproteins that in the mammalian retina have an important role in the circadian clock. In birds, cryptochrome 1a (Cry1a), localized in the UV/violet-sensitive S1 cone photoreceptors, is proposed to be the retinal receptor molecule of the light-dependent magnetic compass. The retinal localization of mammalian Cry1, homologue to avian Cry1a, is unknown, and it is open whether mammalian Cry1 is also involved in magnetic field sensing. To constrain the possible role of retinal Cry1, we immunohistochemically analysed 90 mammalian species across 48 families in 16 orders, using an antiserum against the Cry1 C-terminus that in birds labels only the photo-activated conformation. In the Carnivora families Canidae, Mustelidae and Ursidae, and in some Primates, Cry1 was consistently labeled in the outer segment of the shortwave-sensitive S1 cones. This finding would be compatible with a magnetoreceptive function of Cry1 in these taxa. In all other taxa, Cry1 was not detected by the antiserum that likely also in mammals labels the photo-activated conformation, although Western blots showed Cry1 in mouse retinal cell nuclei. We speculate that in the mouse and the other negative-tested mammals Cry1 is involved in circadian functions as a non-light-responsive protein.

Concepts: Protein, Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Rodent, Rod cell, Carnivora, Cryptochrome


The Radical Pair Model proposes that the avian magnetic compass is based on spin-chemical processes: since the ratio between the two spin states singlet and triplet of radical pairs depends on their alignment in the magnetic field, it can provide information on magnetic directions. Cryptochromes, blue light-absorbing flavoproteins, with flavin adenine dinucleotide as chromophore, are suggested as molecules forming the radical pairs underlying magnetoreception. When activated by light, cryptochromes undergo a redox cycle, in the course of which radical pairs are generated during photo-reduction as well as during light-independent re-oxidation. This raised the question as to which radical pair is crucial for mediating magnetic directions. Here, we present the results from behavioural experiments with intermittent light and magnetic field pulses that clearly show that magnetoreception is possible in the dark interval, pointing to the radical pair formed during flavin re-oxidation. This differs from the mechanism considered for cryptochrome signalling the presence of light and rules out most current models of an avian magnetic compass based on the radical pair generated during photo-reduction. Using the radical pair formed during re-oxidation may represent a specific adaptation of the avian magnetic compass.

Concepts: Electron, Magnetic field, Spin, Magnetism, Adenine, FAD, Magnetoception, Cryptochrome


Circadian clocks provide a competitive advantage in an environment that is heavily influenced by the rotation of the Earth, by driving daily rhythms in behaviour, physiology and metabolism in bacteria, fungi, plants and animals. Circadian clocks comprise transcription-translation feedback loops, which are entrained by environmental signals such as light and temperature to adjust the phase of rhythms to match the local environment. The production of sugars by photosynthesis is a key metabolic output of the circadian clock in plants. Here we show that these rhythmic, endogenous sugar signals can entrain circadian rhythms in Arabidopsis thaliana by regulating the gene expression of circadian clock components early in the photoperiod, thus defining a ‘metabolic dawn’. By inhibiting photosynthesis, we demonstrate that endogenous oscillations in sugar levels provide metabolic feedback to the circadian oscillator through the morning-expressed gene PSEUDO-RESPONSE REGULATOR 7 (PRR7), and we identify that prr7 mutants are insensitive to the effects of sucrose on the circadian period. Thus, photosynthesis has a marked effect on the entrainment and maintenance of robust circadian rhythms in A. thaliana, demonstrating that metabolism has a crucial role in regulation of the circadian clock.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Bacteria, Evolution, Oscillation, Carbohydrate, Circadian rhythm, Circadian rhythms, Cryptochrome


The cryptochrome (CRY) flavoproteins act as blue-light receptors in plants and insects, but perform light-independent functions at the core of the mammalian circadian clock. To drive clock oscillations, mammalian CRYs associate with the Period proteins (PERs) and together inhibit the transcription of their own genes. The SCF(FBXL3) ubiquitin ligase complex controls this negative feedback loop by promoting CRY ubiquitination and degradation. However, the molecular mechanisms of their interactions and the functional role of flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) binding in CRYs remain poorly understood. Here we report crystal structures of mammalian CRY2 in its apo, FAD-bound and FBXL3-SKP1-complexed forms. Distinct from other cryptochromes of known structures, mammalian CRY2 binds FAD dynamically with an open cofactor pocket. Notably, the F-box protein FBXL3 captures CRY2 by simultaneously occupying its FAD-binding pocket with a conserved carboxy-terminal tail and burying its PER-binding interface. This novel F-box-protein-substrate bipartite interaction is susceptible to disruption by both FAD and PERs, suggesting a new avenue for pharmacological targeting of the complex and a multifaceted regulatory mechanism of CRY ubiquitination.

Concepts: Protein, Adenine, Feedback, Negative feedback, Circadian rhythm, FAD, Riboflavin, Cryptochrome


Phototropism enables plants to orient growth towards the direction of light and thereby maximizes photosynthesis in low-light environments. In angiosperms, blue-light photoreceptors called phototropins are primarily involved in sensing the direction of light. Phytochromes and cryptochromes (sensing red/far-red and blue light, respectively) also modulate asymmetric hypocotyl growth, leading to phototropism. Interactions between different light-signaling pathways regulating phototropism occur in cryptogams and angiosperms. In this review, we focus on the molecular mechanisms underlying the co-action between photosensory systems in the regulation of hypocotyl phototropism in Arabidopsis thaliana. Recent studies have shown that phytochromes and cryptochromes enhance phototropism by controlling the expression of important regulators of phototropin signaling. In addition, phytochromes may also regulate growth towards light via direct interaction with the phototropins.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, Arabidopsis, Regulation, Phototropism, Phototropin, Cryptochrome


Soybean (Glycine max) is a facultative short-day plant with a sensitive photoperiod perception and reaction system, which allows it to adjust its physiological state and gene regulatory networks to seasonal and diurnal changes in environmental conditions. In the past few decades, soybean cultivation has spread from East Asia to areas throughout the world. Biologists and breeders must now confront the challenge of understanding the molecular mechanism of soybean photoperiodism and improving agronomic traits to enable this important crop to adapt to geographical and environmental changes. In this review, we summarize the genetic regulatory network underlying photoperiodic responses in soybean. Genomic and genetic studies have revealed that the circadian clock, in conjunction with the light perception pathways, regulates photoperiodic flowering. Here, we provide an annotated list of 844 candidate flowering genes in soybean, with their putative biological functions. Many photoperiod-related genes have been intensively selected during domestication and crop improvement. Finally, we describe recent progress in engineering photoperiod-responsive genes for improving agronomic traits to enhance geographic adaptation in soybean, as well as future prospects for research on soybean photoperiodic responses.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Biology, Circadian rhythm, Chronobiology, Circadian rhythms, Photoperiodism, Cryptochrome


Protein homo-oligomerization is an important molecular mechanism in many biological processes. Therefore, the ability to control protein homo-oligomerization allows the manipulation and interrogation of numerous cellular events. To achieve this, cryptochrome 2 (CRY2) from Arabidopsis thaliana has been recently utilized for blue light-dependent spatiotemporal control of protein homo-oligomerization. However, limited knowledge on molecular characteristics of CRY2 obscures its widespread applications. Here, we identify important determinants for efficient cryptochrome 2 clustering and introduce a new CRY2 module, named “CRY2clust”, to induce rapid and efficient homo-oligomerization of target proteins by employing diverse fluorescent proteins and an extremely short peptide. Furthermore, we demonstrate advancement and versatility of CRY2clust by comparing against previously reported optogenetic tools. Our work not only expands the optogenetic clustering toolbox but also provides a guideline for designing CRY2-based new optogenetic modules.Cryptochrome 2 (CRY2) from A. thaliana can be used to control light-dependent protein homo-oligomerization, but the molecular mechanism of CRY2 clustering is not known, limiting its application. Here the authors identify determinants of CRY2 clustering and engineer fusion partners to modulate clustering efficiency.

Concepts: Protein, Oxygen, Molecular biology, Green fluorescent protein, Model organism, Arabidopsis thaliana, Arabidopsis, Cryptochrome


Posttranslational regulation of clock proteins is an essential part of mammalian circadian rhythms, conferring sensitivity to metabolic state and offering promising targets for pharmacological control. Two such regulators, casein kinase 1 (CKI) and F-box and leucine-rich repeat protein 3 (FBXL3), modulate the stability of closely linked core clock proteins period (PER) and cryptochrome (CRY), respectively. Inhibition of either CKI or FBXL3 leads to longer periods, and their effects are independent despite targeting proteins with similar roles in clock function. A mechanistic understanding of this independence, however, has remained elusive. Our analysis of cellular circadian clock gene reporters further differentiated between the actions of CKI and FBXL3 by revealing opposite amplitude responses from each manipulation. To understand the functional relationship between the CKI-PER and FBXL3-CRY pathways, we generated robust mechanistic predictions by applying a bootstrap uncertainty analysis to multiple mathematical circadian models. Our results indicate that CKI primarily regulates the accumulating phase of the PER-CRY repressive complex by controlling the nuclear import rate, whereas FBXL3 separately regulates the duration of transcriptional repression in the nucleus. Dynamic simulations confirmed that this spatiotemporal separation is able to reproduce the independence of the two regulators in period regulation, as well as their opposite amplitude effect. As a result, this study provides further insight into the molecular clock machinery responsible for maintaining robust circadian rhythms.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Signal transduction, Circadian rhythm, Period, ARNTL, Cryptochrome


Circadian clocks are thought to be essential for timing the daily activity of animals, and consequently increase fitness. This view was recently challenged for clock-less fruit flies and mice that exhibited astonishingly normal activity rhythms under outdoor conditions. Compensatory mechanisms appear to enable even clock mutants to live a normal life in nature. Here, we show that gradual daily increases/decreases of light in the laboratory suffice to provoke normally timed sharp morning (M) and evening (E) activity peaks in clock-less flies. We also show that the compound eyes, but not Cryptochrome (CRY), mediate the precise timing of M and E peaks under natural-like conditions, as CRY-less flies do and eyeless flies do not show these sharp peaks independently of a functional clock. Nevertheless, the circadian clock appears critical for anticipating dusk, as well as for inhibiting sharp activity peaks during midnight. Clock-less flies only increase E activity after dusk and not before the beginning of dusk, and respond strongly to twilight exposure in the middle of the night. Furthermore, the circadian clock responds to natural-like light cycles, by slightly broadening Timeless (TIM) abundance in the clock neurons, and this effect is mediated by CRY.

Concepts: Time, Eye, Circadian rhythm, Period, ARNTL, CLOCK, Night, Cryptochrome