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Networks of circadian timekeeping in the brain display marked daily changes in neuronal morphology. In Drosophila melanogaster, the striking daily structural remodeling of the dorsal medial termini of the small ventral lateral neurons has long been hypothesized to mediate endogenous circadian timekeeping. To test this model, we have specifically abrogated these sites of daily neuronal remodeling through the reprogramming of neural development and assessed the effects on circadian timekeeping and clock outputs. Remarkably, the loss of these sites has no measurable effects on endogenous circadian timekeeping or on any of the major output functions of the small ventral lateral neurons. Rather, their loss reduces sites of glutamatergic sensory neurotransmission that normally encodes naturalistic time cues from the environment. These results support an alternative model: structural plasticity in critical clock neurons is the basis for proper integration of light and temperature and gates sensory inputs into circadian clock neuron networks.


Fernandez et al., 2020, Current Biology 30, 2225–2237 June 22, 2020.

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