Vasoactive intestinal peptide and the mammalian circadian system

Gen Comp Endocrinol. Jun-Jul 2007;152(2-3):165-75. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2007.04.018. Epub 2007 May 26.


In mammals, the circadian oscillators that drive daily behavioral and endocrine rhythms are located in the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). While the SCN is anatomically well-situated to receive and transmit temporal cues to the rest of the brain and periphery, there are many holes in our understanding of how this temporal regulation occurs. Unanswered questions include how cell autonomous circadian oscillations within the SCN remain synchronized to each other as well as communicate temporal information to downstream targets. In recent years, it has become clear that neuropeptides are critically involved in circadian timekeeping. One such neuropeptide, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), defines a cell population within the SCN and is likely used as a signaling molecule by these neurons. Converging lines of evidence suggest that the loss of VIP or its receptor has a major influence on the ability of the SCN neurons to generate circadian oscillations as well as synchronize these cellular oscillations. VIP, acting through the VPAC(2) receptor, exerts these effects in the SCN by activating intracellular signaling pathways and, consequently, modulating synaptic transmission and intrinsic membrane currents. Anatomical evidence suggests that these VIP expressing neurons connect both directly and indirectly to endocrine and other output targets. Striking similarities exist between the role of VIP in mammals and the role of Pigment Dispersing Factor (PDF), a functionally related neuropeptide, in the Drosophila circadian system. Work in both mammals and insects suggests that further research into neuropeptide function is necessary to understand how circadian oscillators work as a coordinated system to impose a temporal structure on physiological processes within the organism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Mammals
  • Receptors, Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide, Type II / physiology*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / physiology*


  • Receptors, Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide, Type II
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide