The circadian clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus (SCN) contains multiple autonomous single-cell circadian oscillators and their basic intracellular oscillatory mechanism is beginning to be identified. Less well understood is how individual SCN cells create an integrated tissue pacemaker that produces a coherent read-out to the rest of the organism. Intercellular coupling mechanisms must coordinate individual cellular periods to generate the averaged, genotype-specific circadian period of whole animals. To noninvasively dissociate this circadian oscillatory network in vivo, we (T.C. and A.D.-N.) have developed an experimental paradigm that exposes animals to exotic light-dark (LD) cycles with periods close to the limits of circadian entrainment. If individual oscillators with different periods are loosely coupled within the network, perhaps some of them would be synchronized to the external cycle while others remain unentrained. In fact, rats exposed to an artificially short 22 hr LD cycle express two stable circadian motor activity rhythms with different period lengths in individual animals. Our analysis of SCN gene expression under such conditions suggests that these two motor activity rhythms reflect the separate activities of two oscillators in the anatomically defined ventrolateral and dorsomedial SCN subdivisions. Our "forced desychronization" protocol has allowed the first stable separation of these two regional oscillators in vivo, correlating their activities to distinct behavioral outputs, and providing a powerful approach for understanding SCN tissue organization and signaling mechanisms in behaving animals.