The daily timing of when PERIOD (PER) proteins translocate from the cytoplasm to the nucleus is a critical step in clock mechanisms underpinning circadian rhythms in animals. Numerous lines of evidence indicate that phosphorylation plays a prominent role in regulating various aspects of PER function and metabolism, including changes in its daily stability and subcellular distribution. In this report, we show that phosphorylation of serine 661 (Ser661) by a proline-directed kinase(s) is a key phospho-signal on the Drosophila PER protein (dPER) that regulates the timing of its nuclear accumulation. Mutations that block phosphorylation at Ser661 do not affect dPER stability but delay its nuclear entry in key pacemaker neurons, yielding longer behavioral rhythms. Intriguingly, abolishing phosphorylation at Ser661 also attenuates the extent of dPER hyperphosphorylation in vivo, suggesting the phosphorylated state of Ser661 regulates phosphorylation at other sites on dPER. Indeed, we identify Ser657 as a site that is phosphorylated by the glycogen synthase kinase GSK-3β (SHAGGY; SGG) in a manner dependent on priming at Ser661. Although not as dramatic as mutating Ser661, mutations that abolish phosphorylation at Ser657 also lead to longer behavioral periods, suggesting that a multi-kinase hierarchical phosphorylation module regulates the timing of dPER nuclear entry. Together with evidence in mammalian systems, our findings implicate proline-directed kinases in clock mechanisms and suggest that PER proteins are key downstream targets of lithium therapy, a potent inhibitor of GSK-3β used to treat manic depression, a disorder associated with clock malfunction in humans.
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