The neuropeptide PDF promotes the normal sequencing of circadian behavioral rhythms in Drosophila, but its signaling mechanisms are not well understood. We report daily rhythmicity in responsiveness to PDF in critical pacemakers called small LNvs. There is a daily change in potency, as great as 10-fold higher, around dawn. The rhythm persists in constant darkness and does not require endogenous ligand (PDF) signaling or rhythmic receptor gene transcription. Furthermore, rhythmic responsiveness reflects the properties of the pacemaker cell type, not the receptor. Dopamine responsiveness also cycles, in phase with that of PDF, in the same pacemakers, but does not cycle in large LNv. The activity of RalA GTPase in s-LNv regulates PDF responsiveness and behavioral locomotor rhythms. Additionally, cell-autonomous PDF signaling reversed the circadian behavioral effects of lowered RalA activity. Thus, RalA activity confers high PDF responsiveness, providing a daily gate around the dawn hours to promote functional PDF signaling. Klose et al. demonstrate daily rhythmic sensitivity to neuropeptide PDF in the Drosophila circadian neural circuit: this rhythm gates PDF modulation of behavior to the period around dawn. The rhythm is cell type specific, ligand independent, and regulated by the RalA GTPase.
- Circadian rhythms