Guiding Light: UCSB biologists discover an unexpected role for a light-sensitive receptor protein in the central brain that regulates circadian rhythms

May 10, 2017

Anyone who has experienced jet lag knows that changing time zones can wreak havoc on our circadian rhythms. Modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature, the roughly 24-hour cycles in our physiological processes are extremely sensitive. Humans aren’t the only creatures whose circadian rhythms are dictated by light. The tiny Drosophila melanogaster — known more commonly as the fruit fly — sets its regular day-and-night-activity cycles in response to light. What’s more, fruit flies also experience jetlag if they experience a sudden shift in the length of one of the day or night cycles. That makes Drosophila so instructive for studying the mechanisms underlying those circadian patterns. Using fruit flies as a model organism, the Craig Montell Lab in MCDB has made an unexpected discovery about rhodopsin — a light-sensitive receptor protein common to humans and flies that regulates circadian rhythms through expression in the central brain. The findings are published in the journal Nature.

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