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J Biol Rhythms. 2006 Oct;21(5):327-34.

Lithium leads to an increased FRQ protein stability and to a partial loss of temperature compensation in the Neurospora circadian clock.

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  • 1Department of Mathematics and Natural Science, University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway.


In many organisms, the presence of lithium leads to an increase of the circadian period length. In Neurospora crassa, it was earlier found that lithium results in a decrease of overall growth and increased circadian periods. In this article, the authors show that lithium leads to a reduction of FRQ degradation with elevated FRQ levels and to a partial loss of temperature compensation. At a concentration of 13 mM lithium, FRQ degradation is reduced by about 60% while, surprisingly, the activity of the 20S proteasome remains unaffected. Experiments and model calculations have shown that the stability of FRQ is dependent on its phosphorylation state and that increased FRQ protein stabilities lead to increased circadian periods, consistent with the observed increase of the period when lithium is present. Because in Neurospora the proteasome activity is unaffected by lithium concentrations that lead to significant FRQ stabilization, it appears that lithium acts as an inhibitor of kinases that affect phosphorylation of FRQ and other proteins. A competition between Li(+) and Mg(2+) ions for Mg(2+)-binding sites may be a mechanism to how certain kinases are inhibited by Li(+). A possible kinase in this respect is GSK-3, which in other organisms is known to be inhibited by lithium. The partial loss of temperature compensation in the presence of lithium can be understood as an increase in the overall activation energy of FRQ degradation. This increase in activation energy may be related to a reduction in FRQ phosphorylation so that more kinase activity, that is, higher temperature and longer times, is required to achieve the necessary amount of FRQ phosphorylation leading to turnover. Using a modified Goodwin oscillator as a semiquantitative model for the Neurospora clock, the effects of lithium can be described by adding lithium inhibitory terms of FRQ degradation to the model.

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