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miR-124 Regulates the Phase of Drosophila Circadian Locomotor Behavior
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Animals use circadian rhythms to anticipate daily environmental changes. Circadian clocks have a profound effect on behavior. In Drosophila, for example, brain pacemaker neurons dictate that flies are mostly active at dawn and dusk. miRNAs are small, regulatory RNAs (approximate to 22 nt) that play important roles in posttranscriptional regulation. Here, we identify miR-124 as an important regulator of Drosophila circadian locomotor rhythms. Under constant darkness, flies lacking miR-124 (miR-124(KO)) have a dramatically advanced circadian behavior phase. However, whereas a phase defect is usually caused by a change in the period of the circadian pacemaker, this is not the case in miR-124(KO) flies. Moreover, the phase of the circadian pacemaker in the clock neurons that control rhythmic locomotion is not altered either. Therefore, miR-124 modulates the output of circadian clock neurons rather than controlling their molecular pacemaker. Circadian phase is also advanced under temperature cycles, but a light/dark cycle partially corrects the defects in miR-124(KO) flies. Indeed, miR-124(KO) shows a normal evening phase under the latter conditions, but morning behavioral activity is suppressed. In summary, miR-124 controls diurnal activity and determines the phase of circadian locomotor behavior without affecting circadian pacemaker function. It thus provides a potent entry point to elucidate the mechanisms by which the phase of circadian behavior is determined.