Behavioral circadian rhythms are controlled by multi-oscillator networks comprising functionally different subgroups of clock neurons. Studies have demonstrated that molecular clocks in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster are regulated differently in clock neuron subclasses to support their specific functions (Lee et al., 2016; Top et al., 2016). The nuclear receptor unfulfilled (unf) represents a regulatory node that provides the small ventral Lateral Neurons (s-LNvs) unique characteristics as the master pacemaker (Beuchle et al., 2012). We previously showed that UNF interacts with the s-LNv molecular clocks by regulating transcription of the core clock gene period (per) (Jaumouille et al., 2015). To gain more insight into the mechanisms by which UNF contributes to the functioning of the circadian master pacemaker, we identified UNF target genes using chromatin immunoprecipitation. Our data demonstrate that a previously uncharacterized gene CG7837, which we termed R and B (Rnb), acts downstream of UNF to regulate the function of s-LNvs as the master circadian pacemaker. Mutations and LNv-targeted adult-restricted knockdown of Rnb impair locomotor rhythms. RNB localizes to the nucleus and its loss-of-function blunts the molecular rhythms and output rhythms of the s-LNvs, particularly the circadian rhythms in PDF accumulation and axonal arbor remodeling. These results establish a second pathway by which UNF interacts with the molecular clocks in the s-LNvs and highlight the mechanistic differences in the molecular clockwork within the pacemaker circuit.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTCircadian behavior is generated by a pacemaker circuit comprising diverse classes of pacemaker neurons, each of which contains a molecular clock. In addition to the anatomical and functional diversity, recent studies have shown the mechanistic differences in the molecular clockwork among the pacemaker neurons in Drosophila Here, we identified the molecular characteristics distinguishing the s-LNvs, the master pacemaker of the locomotor rhythms, from other clock neuron subtypes. We demonstrated that a newly identified gene Rnb is a s-LNv-specific regulator of the molecular clock and essential for the generation of circadian locomotor behavior. Our results provide additional evidence to the emerging view that the differential regulation of the molecular clocks underlies the functional differences among the pacemaker neuron subgroups.
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