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PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e46843. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046843. Epub 2012 Oct 9.

Characterization of circadian behavior in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis.

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Department of Biology and Program in Neuroscience, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina, United States of America.



Although much is known about how circadian systems control daily cycles in the physiology and behavior of Drosophila and several vertebrate models, marine invertebrates have often been overlooked in circadian rhythms research. This study focuses on the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis, a species that has received increasing attention within the scientific community for its potential as a model research organism. The recently sequenced genome of N. vectensis makes it an especially attractive model for exploring the molecular evolution of circadian behavior. Critical behavioral data needed to correlate gene expression patterns to specific behaviors are currently lacking in N. vectensis.


To detect the presence of behavioral oscillations in N. vectensis, locomotor activity was evaluated using an automated system in an environmentally controlled chamber. Animals exposed to a 24 hr photoperiod (12 hr light: 12 hr dark) exhibited locomotor behavior that was both rhythmic and predominantly nocturnal. The activity peak occurred in the early half of the night with a 2-fold increase in locomotion. Upon transfer to constant lighting conditions (constant light or constant dark), an approximately 24 hr rhythm persisted in most animals, suggesting that the rhythm is controlled by an endogenous circadian mechanism. Fourier analysis revealed the presence of multiple peaks in some animals suggesting additional rhythmic components could be present. In particular, an approximately 12 hr oscillation was often observed. The nocturnal increase in generalized locomotion corresponded to a 24 hr oscillation in animal elongation.


These data confirm the presence of a light-entrainable circadian clock in Nematostella vectensis. Additional components observed in some individuals indicate that an endogenous clock of approximately 12 hr frequency may also be present. By describing rhythmic locomotor behavior in N. vectensis, we have made important progress in developing the sea anemone as a model organism for circadian rhythm research.

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