Minireview: The circadian clockwork of the suprachiasmatic nuclei--analysis of a cellular oscillator that drives endocrine rhythms

Endocrinology. 2007 Dec;148(12):5624-34. doi: 10.1210/en.2007-0660. Epub 2007 Sep 27.


The secretion of hormones is temporally precise and periodic, oscillating over hours, days, and months. The circadian timekeeper within the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) is central to this coordination, modulating the frequency of pulsatile release, maintaining daily cycles of secretion, and defining the time base for longer-term rhythms. This central clock is driven by cell-autonomous, transcriptional/posttranslational feedback loops incorporating Period (Per) and other clock genes. SCN neurons exist, however, within neural circuits, and an unresolved question is how SCN clock cells interact. By monitoring the SCN molecular clockwork using fluorescence and bioluminescence videomicroscopy of organotypic slices from mPer1::GFP and mPer1::luciferase transgenic mice, we show that interneuronal neuropeptidergic signaling via the vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP)/PACAP2 (VPAC2) receptor for VIP (an abundant SCN neuropeptide) is necessary to maintain both the amplitude and the synchrony of clock cells in the SCN. Acute induction of mPer1 by light is, however, independent of VIP/VPAC2 signaling, demonstrating dissociation between cellular mechanisms mediating circadian control of the clockwork and those mediating its retinally dependent entrainment to the light/dark cycle. The latter likely involves the Ca(2+)/cAMP response elements of mPer genes, triggered by a MAPK cascade activated by retinal afferents to the SCN. In the absence of VPAC2 signaling, however, this cascade is inappropriately responsive to light during circadian daytime. Hence VPAC2-mediated signaling sustains the SCN cellular clockwork and is necessary both for interneuronal synchronization and appropriate entrainment to the light/dark cycle. In its absence, behavioral and endocrine rhythms are severely compromised.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neuropeptides / metabolism
  • Neuropeptides / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / cytology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology


  • Neuropeptides