Team Finds Link Between Vitamin A And Brain Response In Monarch Butterflies


The findings pave the way for understanding the mechanisms by which vitamin A operates in the brain to translate day length encoding into seasonal physiological and behavioral responses in animals.

Biologists at Texas A&M University are making strides in understanding biological clock function in several model organisms and translating these studies into broader implications for human health.

The Merlin Laboratory in the Texas A&M Department of Biology has found genetic evidence linking circadian clock genes and clock-regulated molecular pathways to the Monarch butterfly’s uncanny ability to sense the changes in day length, or photoperiod — an environmental cue that signals them to migrate and triggers the reproductive dormancy they exhibit in the process. Their work establishes a clear connection between clock genes and the vitamin A pathway within the brain of this iconic insect.

The Merlin Lab’s study, published November 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, not only provides genetic proof for the photoperiod-clock connection but also demonstrates for the first time that it also regulates a critical vitamin A pathway necessary for seasonal responses.

“Nearly all organisms adapt to the seasons by adjusting their physiology and behavior to changes in day length, or photoperiod,” says Texas A&M biologist and 2017 Klingenstein-Simons Fellow Christine Merlin.

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Image via Texas A&M University