The National Institutes of General Medical Sciences has awarded an Outstanding Investigator Award of nearly $2 million to Paul Taghert, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine, to study how the circadian clock orchestrates multiple biological cycles that operate at different phases. Physiological and behavioral rhythms, such as sleep, hormone fluxes, and eating, peak at scheduled, yet different, times. With this funding, the Taghert Lab seeks to understand regulatory mechanisms governing such daily, polyphasic rhythms using the model genetic system, Drosophila.
Critical to behavioral biological rhythms in flies is a set of roughly 150 neurons called pacemaker cells. Pacemakers are intrinsically aligned to be most active in the morning, yet like other animals, Drosophila require precise temporal coordination of physiology and behavior to occur at many diverse phases during the day and night. Previously, the group had identified two pacemaker-derived neuropeptides as agents of these discrepancies: they lead subsets of pacemakers to break synchrony and to thereby interact with downstream cells at particular rhythms. In this new project, the researchers will identify additional molecular and cellular events that generate and propagate specific phases of pacemaker activity as discrete biological rhythms.
“Our work pursues an understanding of circadian output in the neural systems, but will also be relevant more generally to mechanisms of neural circuit modulation,” said Taghert.