Small-world network models of intercellular coupling predict enhanced synchronization in the suprachiasmatic nucleus

J Biol Rhythms. 2009 Jun;24(3):243-54. doi: 10.1177/0748730409333220.


The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus is a multioscillator system that drives daily rhythms in mammalian behavior and physiology. Based on recent data implicating vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) as the key intercellular synchronizing agent, we developed a multicellular SCN model to investigate the effects of cellular heterogeneity and intercellular connectivity on circadian behavior. A 2-dimensional grid was populated with 400 model cells that were heterogeneous with respect to their uncoupled rhythmic behavior (intrinsic and damped pacemakers with a range of oscillation periods) and VIP release characteristics (VIP producers and nonproducers). We constructed small-world network architectures in which local connections between VIP producing cells and their 4 nearest neighbors were augmented with random connections, resulting in long-range coupling across the grid. With only 10% of the total possible connections, the small-world network model was able to produce similar phase synchronization indices as a mean-field model with VIP producing cells connected to all other cells. Partial removal of random connections decreased the synchrony among neurons, the amplitude of VIP and cAMP response element binding protein oscillations, the mean period of intrinsic periods across the population, and the percentage of oscillating cells. These results indicate that small-world connectivity provides the optimal compromise between the number of connections and control of circadian amplitude and synchrony. This model predicts that small decreases in long-range VIP connections in the SCN could have dramatic effects on period and amplitude of daily rhythms, features commonly described with aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Mammals / metabolism
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / metabolism


  • Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide