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Active output state of the Synechococcus Kai circadian oscillator


The mechanisms by which cellular oscillators keep time and transmit temporal information are poorly understood. In cyanobacteria, the timekeeping aspect of the circadian oscillator, composed of the KaiA, KaiB, and KaiC proteins, involves a cyclic progression of phosphorylation states at Ser431 and Thr432 of KaiC. Elucidating the mechanism that uses this temporal information to modulate gene expression is complicated by unknowns regarding the number, structure, and regulatory effects of output components. To identify oscillator signaling states without a complete description of the output machinery, we defined a simple metric, Kai-complex output activity (KOA), that represents the difference in expression of reporter genes between strains that carry specific variants of KaiC and baseline strains that lack KaiC. In the absence of the oscillator, expression of the class 1 paradigm promoter P(kaiBC) was locked at its usual peak level; conversely, that of the class 2 paradigm promoter P(purF) was locked at its trough level. However, for both classes of promoters, peak KOA in wild-type strains coincided late in the circadian cycle near subjective dawn, when KaiC-pST becomes most prevalent (Ser431 is phosphorylated and Thr432 is not). Analogously, peak KOA was detected specifically for the phosphomimetic of KaiC-pST (KaiC-ET). Notably, peak KOA required KaiB, indicating that a KaiBC complex is involved in the output activity. We also found evidence that phosphorylated RpaA (regulator of phycobilisome associated) represses an RpaA-independent output of KOA. A simple mathematical expression successfully simulated two key features of the oscillator-the time of peak KOA and the peak-to-trough amplitude changes.

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