Justin Blau

Professor of Biology and Neural Science; Chair, Department of Biology


Areas of Research/Interest

Behavioral genetics / Neurobiology / Circadian rhythms


Figure 1

How genes control animal behavior is the big question my lab is interested in. We mainly study circadian (~24hr) rhythms of behavior, arguably the best understood behavior at molecular and cellular levels. We use the fruitfly Drosophila as a powerful model system that has led the way in circadian rhythm research and is ideal for analyzing behavior at the level of single genes, single neurons, neuronal networks and whole animal behavior. We use Genetics, Genomics & BioInformatics, Microscopy and Behavioral assays to build a holistic model of how flies anticipate daily environmental changes.

Adult flies have 24hr rhythms in their activity: they are more active by day, especially at dusk and dawn, and rest by night – paralleling human sleep/wake cycles. These rhythms persist in constant darkness, indicating that flies have an internal sense of time. Forward genetics helped identify a set of core clock genes that are essential for 24hr rhythms in constant darkness, and these genes work together in transcription / translation feedback loops, forming "molecular clocks".

A recent technical breakthrough we made has allowed us to obtain whole genome expression profiles from the master pacemaker neurons (LNvs) at different times of day. These datasets are helping us understand the biology of these neurons by giving us insights into how LNvs control the timing of their output signals, novel signaling pathways involved in circadian rhythms and a system-level understanding of how LNv gene expression is altered in different electrical states.

Figure 2

The larval clock neurons form a “minimal” circadian neural network with many fewer neurons than adult flies. We have been using this simplified circadian system to understand how clock neurons communicate to keep their molecular clocks synchronized with each other and to generate rhythmic behavior. The expectation is that what we learn in Drosophila will hold true for mammalian pacemaker neurons. Other projects ongoing in the lab include developing a novel decision-making paradigm in Drosophila.

Current Lab Members

Justin Blau PI  
Ben Collins Postdoc  
Matthieu Cavey Postdoc  
Chris Hackley PhD student  
Afroditi Petsakou PhD student  
Zhonghua Zhu PhD student  
Ryan Raypon Masters student  
Irfan Gondal Undergraduate student  
Lakshmi Menon Undergraduate student, NYUAD  
Nushra Paracha Undergraduate student

Some Recent Lab Alumni

Alex Keene Postdoc Asst. Professor, Biology Dept, University of Nevada, Reno
Danny Forger Postdoc Assoc. Professor, Mathematics Dept, University of Michigan
Marc Ruben PhD student Consultant, Defined Health, Morristown, NJ
David Dahdal PhD student Medical Affairs Department, Ferring Pharmaceuticals
Dogukan Mizrak PhD student Postdoc, Columbia University
Anita Burgos Undergraduate student PhD student, Columbia University
Elizabeth Kane Undergraduate student Rowland Junior Fellow, Harvard University
Harris Kaplan Undergraduate student PhD student, IMP, Vienna
Meg Younger Undergraduate student PhD student, UCSF

Current Funding

NIH R01 GM063911: Regulation of pacemaker neurons

NIH R03 NS077156: GEF activity in circadian pacemaker neurons

NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute


Genes & Animal Behavior (Graduate course)

The Art of Scientific Investigation (1st year Ph.D. students)

Signaling in Biological Systems (Honors seminar for Undergraduates)

Foundations of Science 4 (NYU Abu Dhabi)


I graduated from Cambridge University with a BA in Natural Sciences in 1991 where my time in Mike Bate’s lab sparked my appreciation for Drosophila. For my Ph.D., I worked with David Bentley at ICRF in London, studying the basic mechanisms of how transcription factors stimulate RNA polymerase II to activate gene expression using mammalian cell culture. I decided to work on a larger and more open question while a postdoc, and joined Mike Young's laboratory in 1996 at The Rockefeller University in New York to study circadian rhythms in Drosophila. I joined the faculty here at NYU as an Assistant Professor in 2000 and was awarded tenure in 2006 and promoted to Professor in 2013.

Other Activities

Organizer NYU NeuroBiology SuperGroup (labs from Biology, Center for Neural Science and the Medical School)

Affiliated with other departments or programs

Affiliate of Center for Neural Science

NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute (co-PI in CGSB, Neuronal systems and Molecular complexity group)

External Affiliations

Organizer NY Area Clock Group (includes labs from NYU, Rockefeller, Columbia, Yale, Princeton & Rutgers)



Do Flies Count Sheep or NMDA Receptors to Go to Sleep?
Cell (2016 Jun 02) PMID: 27259141
Lymer S, Blau J

Circadian rhythms in neuronal activity propagate through output circuits.
Nat Neurosci (2016 Apr) PMC5066395 free full-text archive
Cavey M, Collins B, Bertet C, Blau J

Circadian Rhythms in Rho1 Activity Regulate Neuronal Plasticity and Network Hierarchy.
Cell (2015 Aug 13) PMC4537806 free full-text archive
Petsakou A, Sapsis TP, Blau J

Differentially timed extracellular signals synchronize pacemaker neuron clocks.
PLoS Biol (2014 Sep) PMC4181961 free full-text archive
Collins B, Kaplan HS, Cavey M, Lelito KR, Bahle AH, Zhu Z, Macara AM, Roman G, Shafer OT, Blau J

A plastic clock.
Neuron (2013 May 22) PMC3753787 free full-text archive
Collins B, Blau J

A mechanism for circadian control of pacemaker neuron excitability.
J Biol Rhythms (2012 Oct) PMC4019749 free full-text archive
Ruben M, Drapeau MD, Mizrak D, Blau J

Electrical activity can impose time of day on the circadian transcriptome of pacemaker neurons.
Curr Biol (2012 Oct 23) PMC3562355 free full-text archive
Mizrak D, Ruben M, Myers GN, Rhrissorrakrai K, Gunsalus KC, Blau J

Balance of activity between LN(v)s and glutamatergic dorsal clock neurons promotes robust circadian rhythms in Drosophila.
Neuron (2012 May 24) PMC3361687 free full-text archive
Collins B, Kane EA, Reeves DC, Akabas MH, Blau J

Distinct visual pathways mediate Drosophila larval light avoidance and circadian clock entrainment.
J Neurosci (2011 Apr 27) PMC3103866 free full-text archive
Keene AC, Mazzoni EO, Zhen J, Younger MA, Yamaguchi S, Blau J, Desplan C, Sprecher SG

Drosophila pacemaker neurons require g protein signaling and GABAergic inputs to generate twenty-four hour behavioral rhythms.
Neuron (2010 Dec 09) PMC3030199 free full-text archive
Dahdal D, Reeves DC, Ruben M, Akabas MH, Blau J

Clock and cycle limit starvation-induced sleep loss in Drosophila.
Curr Biol (2010 Jul 13) PMC2929698 free full-text archive
Keene AC, Duboue ER, McDonald DM, Dus M, Suh GS, Waddell S, Blau J

The transcription factor Mef2 is required for normal circadian behavior in Drosophila.
J Neurosci (2010 Apr 28) PMC2876976 free full-text archive
Blanchard FJ, Collins B, Cyran SA, Hancock DH, Taylor MV, Blau J

The COP9 signalosome is required for light-dependent timeless degradation and Drosophila clock resetting.
J Neurosci (2009 Jan 28) PMC2648809 free full-text archive
Knowles A, Koh K, Wu JT, Chien CT, Chamovitz DA, Blau J

PERspective on PER phosphorylation.
Genes Dev (2008 Jul 01) PMC2732424 free full-text archive
Blau J

What is there left to learn about the Drosophila clock?
Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol (2007) PMC2637790 free full-text archive
Blau J, Blanchard F, Collins B, Dahdal D, Knowles A, Mizrak D, Ruben M

Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day: circadian timekeeping in Drosophila.
Pflugers Arch (2007 Aug) PMID: 17226053
Collins B, Blau J

A new model for circadian clock research?
Mol Syst Biol (2005) PMC1681450 free full-text archive
Forger D, Drapeau M, Collins B, Blau J

Keeping time without a clock.
Neuron (2006 May 04) PMID: 16675389
Collins B, Blau J

Drosophila CRYPTOCHROME is a circadian transcriptional repressor.
Curr Biol (2006 Mar 07) PMID: 16527739
Collins B, Mazzoni EO, Stanewsky R, Blau J

The double-time protein kinase regulates the subcellular localization of the Drosophila clock protein period.
J Neurosci (2005 Jun 01) PMC1361277 free full-text archive
Cyran SA, Yiannoulos G, Buchsbaum AM, Saez L, Young MW, Blau J

Membranes, ions, and clocks: testing the Njus-Sulzman-Hastings model of the circadian oscillator.
Methods Enzymol (2005) PMID: 15817319
Nitabach MN, Holmes TC, Blau J

Circadian pacemaker neurons transmit and modulate visual information to control a rapid behavioral response.
Neuron (2005 Jan 20) PMID: 15664180
Mazzoni EO, Desplan C, Blau J

Lmo mutants reveal a novel role for circadian pacemaker neurons in cocaine-induced behaviors.
PLoS Biol (2004 Dec) PMC529317 free full-text archive
Tsai LT, Bainton RJ, Blau J, Heberlein U

Membrane electrical excitability is necessary for the free-running larval Drosophila circadian clock.
J Neurobiol (2005 Jan) PMID: 15389695
Nitabach MN, Sheeba V, Vera DA, Blau J, Holmes TC

A new role for an old kinase: CK2 and the circadian clock.
Nat Neurosci (2003 Mar) PMID: 12601377
Blau J

vrille, Pdp1, and dClock form a second feedback loop in the Drosophila circadian clock.
Cell (2003 Feb 07) PMID: 12581523
Cyran SA, Buchsbaum AM, Reddy KL, Lin MC, Glossop NR, Hardin PE, Young MW, Storti RV, Blau J

Cellular clockwork.
Nat Genet (2002 Dec) PMID: 12457186
Nitabach MN, Blau J

Electrical silencing of Drosophila pacemaker neurons stops the free-running circadian clock.
Cell (2002 May 17) PMID: 12086605
Nitabach MN, Blau J, Holmes TC

The Drosophila circadian clock: what we know and what we don't know.
Semin Cell Dev Biol (2001 Aug) PMID: 11463213
Blau J

Siesta-time is in the genes.
Neuron (1999 Sep) PMID: 10677021
Blau J, Rothenfluh A

Cycling vrille expression is required for a functional Drosophila clock.
Cell (1999 Dec 10) PMID: 10612401
Blau J, Young MW

The Drosophila clock gene double-time encodes a protein closely related to human casein kinase Iepsilon.
Cell (1998 Jul 10) PMID: 9674431
Kloss B, Price JL, Saez L, Blau J, Rothenfluh A, Wesley CS, Young MW

double-time is a novel Drosophila clock gene that regulates PERIOD protein accumulation.
Cell (1998 Jul 10) PMID: 9674430
Price JL, Blau J, Rothenfluh A, Abodeely M, Kloss B, Young MW

Three functional classes of transcriptional activation domain.
Mol Cell Biol (1996 May) PMC231191 free full-text archive
Blau J, Xiao H, McCracken S, O'Hare P, Greenblatt J, Bentley D

Transcriptional elongation by RNA polymerase II is stimulated by transactivators.
Cell (1994 Jun 03) PMID: 8205623
Yankulov K, Blau J, Purton T, Roberts S, Bentley DL