Temperature-sensitive properties of rat suprachiasmatic nucleus neurons

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2001 Sep;281(3):R706-15. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.2001.281.3.R706.


The hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) contains a heterogeneous population of neurons, some of which are temperature sensitive in their firing rate activity. Neuronal thermosensitivity may provide cues that synchronize the circadian clock. In addition, through synaptic inhibition on nearby cells, thermosensitive neurons may provide temperature compensation to other SCN neurons, enabling postsynaptic neurons to maintain a constant firing rate despite changes in temperature. To identify mechanisms of neuronal thermosensitivity, whole cell patch recordings monitored resting and transient potentials of SCN neurons in rat hypothalamic tissue slices during changes in temperature. Firing rate temperature sensitivity is not due to thermally dependent changes in the resting membrane potential, action potential threshold, or amplitude of the fast afterhyperpolarizing potential (AHP). The primary mechanism of neuronal thermosensitivity resides in the depolarizing prepotential, which is the slow depolarization that occurs prior to the membrane potential reaching threshold. In thermosensitive neurons, warming increases the prepotential's rate of depolarization, such that threshold is reached sooner. This shortens the interspike interval and increases the firing rate. In some SCN neurons, the slow component of the AHP provides an additional mechanism for thermosensitivity. In these neurons, warming causes the slow AHP to begin at a more depolarized level, and this, in turn, shortens the interspike interval to increase firing rate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Electric Impedance
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Temperature*