In addition to the molecular feedback loops, electrical activity has been shown to be important for the function of networks of clock neurons in generating rhythmic behavior. Most studies have used over-expression of foreign channels or pharmacological manipulations that alter membrane excitability. In order to determine the cellular mechanisms that regulate resting membrane potential (RMP) in the native clock of Drosophila we modulated the function of Shaw, a widely expressed neuronal potassium (K+) channel known to regulate RMP in Drosophila central neurons.
We show that Shaw is endogenously expressed in clock neurons. Differential use of clock gene promoters was employed to express a range of transgenes that either increase or decrease Shaw function in different clusters of clock neurons. Under LD conditions, increasing Shaw levels in all clock neurons (LNv, LNd, DN1, DN2 and DN3), or in subsets of clock neurons (LNd and DNs or DNs alone) increases locomotor activity at night. In free-running conditions these manipulations result in arrhythmic locomotor activity without disruption of the molecular clock. Reducing Shaw in the DN alone caused a dramatic lengthening of the behavioral period. Changing Shaw levels in all clock neurons also disrupts the rhythmic accumulation and levels of Pigment Dispersing Factor (PDF) in the dorsal projections of LNv neurons. However, changing Shaw levels solely in LNv neurons had little effect on locomotor activity or rhythmic accumulation of PDF.
Based on our results it is likely that Shaw modulates pacemaker and output neuronal electrical activity that controls circadian locomotor behavior by affecting rhythmic release of PDF. The results support an important role of the DN clock neurons in Shaw-mediated control of circadian behavior. In conclusion, we have demonstrated a central role of Shaw for coordinated and rhythmic output from clock neurons.