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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


In Neurospora, metabolic oscillators coexist with the circadian transcriptional/translational feedback loop governed by the FRQ (Frequency) and WC (White Collar) proteins. One of these, a choline deficiency oscillator (CDO) observed in chol-1 mutants grown under choline starvation, drives an uncompensated long-period developmental cycle ( approximately 60-120 h). To assess possible contributions of this metabolic oscillator to the circadian system, molecular and physiological rhythms were followed in liquid culture under choline starvation, but these only confirmed that an oscillator with a normal circadian period length can run under choline starvation. This finding suggested that long-period developmental cycles elicited by nutritional stress could be masking output from the circadian system, although a caveat was that the CDO sometimes requires several days to become consolidated. To circumvent this and observe both oscillators simultaneously, we used an assay using a codon-optimized luciferase to follow the circadian oscillator. Under conditions where the long-period, uncompensated, CDO-driven developmental rhythm was expressed for weeks in growth tubes, the luciferase rhythm in the same cultures continued in a typical compensated manner with a circadian period length dependent on the allelic state of frq. Periodograms revealed no influence of the CDO on the circadian oscillator. Instead, the CDO appears as a cryptic metabolic oscillator that can, under appropriate conditions, assume control of growth and development, thereby masking output from the circadian system. frq-driven luciferase as a reporter of the circadian oscillator may in this way provide a means for assessing prospective role(s) of metabolic and/or ancillary oscillators within cellular circadian systems.