Clock gene expression and locomotor activity predict death in the last days of life in Drosophila melanogaster

The importance of the circadian clock for the regulation of behaviour and physiology, and the molecular control of these rhythms by a set of clock genes are well defined. The circadian clock deteriorates with advancing age but the mechanism underlying is unclear. Here we recorded the expression of two key clock genes in young, middle-aged and old Drosophila using transgenic luciferase lines reporting period and timeless in vivo.

We report a novel marker of imminent death in the expression of TIMELESS. In the days immediately preceding death TIMELESS expression increased to at least 150% of previous acrophase values (88.0% of n = 217) and lost circadian rhythmicity, which predicted death equally well in flies of different ages and under light and temperature cycles.

We suggest this transient aberrant clock-gene expression is central to the mechanism of the disturbance in circadian behaviour before death (82.7% of n = 342). We also find that PERIOD expression in central-clock neurons remained robust with age, however PERIOD and TIMELESS in peripheral clocks showed a reduction in both expression level and rhythmicity.

In conclusion, as flies age the molecular clock gradually declines at the peripheral level but continues to function at the central until days before death.

Scientific Reportsvolume 8, Article number: 11923 (2018)

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