Background: Circadian clocks are synchronized by both light:dark cycles and by temperature fluctuations. Although it has long been known that temperature cycles can robustly entrain Drosophila locomotor rhythms, nothing is known about the molecular mechanisms involved.
Results: We show here that temperature cycles induce synchronized behavioral rhythms and oscillations of the clock proteins PERIOD and TIMELESS in constant light, a situation that normally leads to molecular and behavioral arrhythmicity. We show that expression of the Drosophila clock gene period can be entrained by temperature cycles in cultured body parts and isolated brains. Further, we show that the phospholipase C encoded by the norpA gene contributes to thermal entrainment, suggesting that a receptor-coupled transduction cascade signals temperature changes to the circadian clock. We initiated the further genetic dissection of temperature-entrainment and isolated the novel Drosophila mutation nocte, which is defective in molecular and behavioral entrainment by temperature cycles but synchronizes normally to light:dark cycles.
Conclusions: We conclude that temperature synchronization of the circadian clock is a tissue-autonomous process that is able to override the arrhythmia-inducing effects of constant light. Our data suggest that it involves a cell-autonomous signal-transduction cascade from a thermal receptor to the circadian clock. This process includes the function of phospholipase C and the product specified by the novel mutation nocte.