Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Aug 2;119(31):e2203078119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2203078119. Epub 2022 Jul 26.
The transcription-translation negative feedback loops underlying animal and fungal circadian clocks are remarkably similar in their molecular regulatory architecture and, although much is understood about their central mechanism, little is known about the spatiotemporal dynamics of the gene products involved. A common feature of these circadian oscillators is a significant temporal delay between rhythmic accumulation of clock messenger RNAs (mRNAs) encoding negative arm proteins, for example, frq in Neurospora and Per1-3 in mammals, and the appearance of the clock protein complexes assembled from the proteins they encode. Here, we report use of single-molecule RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization (smFISH) to show that the fraction of nuclei actively transcribing the clock gene frq changes in a circadian manner, and that these mRNAs cycle in abundance with fewer than five transcripts per nucleus at any time. Spatial point patterning statistics reveal that frq is spatially clustered near nuclei in a time of day-dependent manner and that clustering requires an RNA-binding protein, PRD-2 (PERIOD-2), recently shown also to bind to mRNA encoding another core clock component, casein kinase 1. An intrinsically disordered protein, PRD-2 displays behavior in vivo and in vitro consistent with participation in biomolecular condensates. These data are consistent with a role for phase-separating RNA-binding proteins in spatiotemporally organizing clock mRNAs to facilitate local translation and assembly of clock protein complexes.