Several immediate-early genes have been shown to be induced in the rodent circadian pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, by retinal illumination at night. We compared spontaneous and light-evoked levels of the immediate-early gene protein ZIF268 (NGFI-A) in the Syrian hamster and C57BL/6J mouse suprachiasmatic nucleus. Exposure of both hamsters and mice to light pulses early and late in the subjective night caused increased ZIF268 immunoreactivity in the region of the suprachiasmatic nucleus that receives retinal innervation. In contrast to hamsters, mice also showed spontaneous increases in ZIF268 at both subjective night phases at the lateral edges of the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Light also evoked a significant increase in ZIF268 levels during the subjective day in the lateral suprachiasmatic nucleus, with few labeled cells in the ventral and dorsal suprachiasmatic nucleus. These results demonstrate a novel circadian pattern and regional differentiation of ZIF268 immunoreactivity in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of mice that differ from those in other rodents. There are pronounced species differences in both spontaneous and light-evoked expression of ZIF268 immunoreactivity.