Circadian clocks align various behaviors such as locomotor activity, sleep/wake, feeding, and mating to times of day that are most adaptive. How rhythmic information in pacemaker circuits is translated to neuronal outputs is not well understood. Here, we used brain-wide, 24-h in vivo calcium imaging in the Drosophila brain and searched for circadian rhythmic activity among identified clusters of dopaminergic (DA) and peptidergic neurosecretory (NS) neurons. Such rhythms were widespread and imposed by the PERIOD-dependent clock activity within the ∼150-cell circadian pacemaker network. The rhythms displayed either a morning (M), evening (E), or mid-day (MD) phase. Different subgroups of circadian pacemakers imposed neural activity rhythms onto different downstream non-clock neurons. Outputs from the canonical M and E pacemakers converged to regulate DA-PPM3 and DA-PAL neurons. E pacemakers regulate the evening-active DA-PPL1 neurons. In addition to these canonical M and E oscillators, we present evidence for a third dedicated phase occurring at mid-day: the l-LNv pacemakers present the MD activity peak, and they regulate the MD-active DA-PPM1/2 neurons and three distinct NS cell types. Thus, the Drosophila circadian pacemaker network is a polyphasic rhythm generator. It presents dedicated M, E, and MD phases that are functionally transduced as neuronal outputs to organize diverse daily activity patterns in downstream circuits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-363.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 23 2023


  • Drosophila
  • GCaMP6
  • calcium
  • circadian physiology
  • dopamine
  • neuronal pacemakers
  • peptidergic


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