Alzheimer's disease-associated tau alters Drosophila circadian activity, sleep and clock neuron electrophysiology

Edgar Buhl*, James P Higham, James J L Hodge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
359 Downloads (Pure)


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia, which is associated with an enormous personal, social and economic burden worldwide. However, there are few current treatments with none of them targeting the underlying causes of the disease. Sleep and circadian rhythm defects are not only distressing symptoms of AD and other tauopathies and are a leading cause of care home admission but are also thought to accelerate AD pathology. Despite this, little is understood about the underlying causes of these behavioural changes. Expression of the 0N4R isoform of tau has been associated with AD pathology and we show that expressing it in the Drosophila clock network gives rise to circadian and sleep phenotypes which closely match the behavioural changes seen in human AD patients. Tauopathic flies exhibited greater locomotor activity throughout the day and night and displayed a loss of sleep, particularly at night. Under constant darkness, the locomotor behaviour of tau-expressing flies was less rhythmic than controls indicating a defect in their intrinsic circadian rhythm. Current clamp recordings from wake-promoting, pigment dispersing factor (PDF)-positive large lateral ventral clock neurons (l-LNvs) revealed elevated spontaneous firing throughout the day and night which likely underlies the observed hyperactive circadian phenotype. Interestingly, expression of tau in only the PDF-positive pacemaker neurons, which are thought to be the most important for behaviour under constant conditions, was not sufficient or even necessary to affect circadian rhythmicity. This work establishes Drosophila as a model to investigate interactions between human pathological versions of tau and the machinery that controls neuronal excitability, allowing the identification of underlying mechanisms of disease that may reveal new therapeutic targets.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104507
Number of pages9
JournalNeurobiology of Disease
Early online date14 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier Inc.


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Clock neurons
  • Drosophila
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Locomotor activity
  • Sleep
  • Tau
  • Tauopathy


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