Many different functions are regulated by circadian rhythms, including those orchestrated by discrete clock neurons within animal brains. To comprehensively characterize and assign cell identity to the 75 pairs of Drosophila circadian neurons, we optimized a single cell RNA sequencing method and assayed clock neuron gene expression at different times of day. The data identify at least 17 clock neuron categories with striking spatial regulation of gene expression. Transcription factor regulation is prominent and likely contributes to the robust circadian oscillation of many transcripts, including those that encode cell-surface proteins previously shown to be important for cell recognition and synapse formation during development. We suggest that these molecules orchestrate the temporal regulation of synapse formation and/or strength. The many other clock-regulated genes also constitute an important resource for future mechanistic and functional studies between clock neurons and/or for temporal signaling to circuits elsewhere in the fly brain.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience