New Drosophila Circadian Clock Mutants Affecting Temperature Compensation Induced by Targeted Mutagenesis of Timeless

Frontiers in Physiology
December 2019
Full Article
Singh, S
Giesecke, A
Damulewicz, M
Fexova, S
Mazzotta, G M
Dolezel, D

Drosophila melanogaster has served as an excellent genetic model to decipher the molecular basis of the circadian clock. Two key proteins, PERIOD (PER) and TIMELESS (TIM), are particularly well explored and a number of various arrhythmic, slow, and fast clock mutants have been identified in classical genetic screens. Interestingly, the free running period (tau, τ) is influenced by temperature in some of these mutants, whereas τ is temperature-independent in other mutant lines as in wild-type flies. This, so-called “temperature compensation” ability is compromised in the mutant timeless allele “ritsu” (tim<sup>rit</sup>), and, as we show here, also in the tim<sup>blind</sup> allele, mapping to the same region of TIM. To test if this region of TIM is indeed important for temperature compensation, we generated a collection of new mutants and mapped functional protein domains involved in the regulation of τ and in general clock function. We developed a protocol for targeted mutagenesis of specific gene regions utilizing the CRISPR/Cas9 technology, followed by behavioral screening. In this pilot study, we identified 20 new timeless mutant alleles with various impairments of temperature compensation. Molecular characterization revealed that the mutations included short in-frame insertions, deletions, or substitutions of a few amino acids resulting from the non-homologous end joining repair process. Our protocol is a fast and cost-efficient systematic approach for functional analysis of protein-coding genes and promoter analysis in vivo. Interestingly, several mutations with a strong temperature compensation defect map to one specific region of TIM. Although the exact mechanism of how these mutations affect TIM function is as yet unknown, our in silico analysis suggests they affect a putative nuclear export signal (NES) and phosphorylation sites of TIM. Immunostaining for PER was performed on two TIM mutants that display longer τ at 25°C and complete arrhythmicity at 28°C. Consistently with the behavioral phenotype, PER immunoreactivity was reduced in circadian clock neurons of flies exposed to elevated temperatures.