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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Apr;107(8):2096-108. doi: 10.1152/jn.00931.2011. Epub 2012 Jan 25.

Reciprocal cholinergic and GABAergic modulation of the small ventrolateral pacemaker neurons of Drosophila's circadian clock neuron network.

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Dept. of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1048, USA.


The relatively simple clock neuron network of Drosophila is a valuable model system for the neuronal basis of circadian timekeeping. Unfortunately, many key neuronal classes of this network are inaccessible to electrophysiological analysis. We have therefore adopted the use of genetically encoded sensors to address the physiology of the fly's circadian clock network. Using genetically encoded Ca(2+) and cAMP sensors, we have investigated the physiological responses of two specific classes of clock neuron, the large and small ventrolateral neurons (l- and s-LN(v)s), to two neurotransmitters implicated in their modulation: acetylcholine (ACh) and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Live imaging of l-LN(v) cAMP and Ca(2+) dynamics in response to cholinergic agonist and GABA application were well aligned with published electrophysiological data, indicating that our sensors were capable of faithfully reporting acute physiological responses to these transmitters within single adult clock neuron soma. We extended these live imaging methods to s-LN(v)s, critical neuronal pacemakers whose physiological properties in the adult brain are largely unknown. Our s-LN(v) experiments revealed the predicted excitatory responses to bath-applied cholinergic agonists and the predicted inhibitory effects of GABA and established that the antagonism of ACh and GABA extends to their effects on cAMP signaling. These data support recently published but physiologically untested models of s-LN(v) modulation and lead to the prediction that cholinergic and GABAergic inputs to s-LN(v)s will have opposing effects on the phase and/or period of the molecular clock within these critical pacemaker neurons.

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