Clocks do not tick in unison: isolation of Clock and vrille shed new light on the clockwork model of the sand fly Lutzomyia longipalpis
Background: Behavior rhythms of insect vectors directly interfere with the dynamics of pathogen transmission to humans. The sand fly Lutzomyia longipalpis is the main vector of visceral leishmaniasis in America and concentrates its activity around dusk. Despite the accumulation of behavioral data, very little is known about the molecular bases of the clock mechanism in this species. This study aims to characterize, within an evolutionary perspective, two important circadian clock genes, Clock and vrille. Findings: We have cloned and isolated the coding sequence of L. longipalpis' genes Clock and vrille. The former is structured in eight exons and encodes a protein of 696 amino acids, and the latter comprises three exons and translates to a protein of 469 amino acids. When compared to other insects' orthologues, L. longipalpis CLOCK shows a high degree of conservation in the functional domains bHLH and PAS, but a much shorter glutamine-rich (poly-Q) C-terminal region. As for L. longipalpis VRILLE, a high degree of conservation was found in the bZIP domain. To support these observations and provide an elegant view of the evolution of both genes in insects, phylogenetic analyses based on maximum-likelihood and Bayesian inferences were performed, corroborating the previously known insect systematics. Conclusions: The isolation and phylogenetic analyses of Clock and vrille orthologues in L. longipalpis bring novel and important data to characterize this species' circadian clock. Interestingly, the poly-Q shortening observed in CLOCK suggests that its transcription activity might be impaired and we speculate if this effect could be compensated by other clock factors such as CYCLE.