Intrinsic regulation of spatiotemporal organization within the suprachiasmatic nucleus

PLoS One. 2011 Jan 7;6(1):e15869. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0015869.


The mammalian pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) contains a population of neural oscillators capable of sustaining cell-autonomous rhythms in gene expression and electrical firing. A critical question for understanding pacemaker function is how SCN oscillators are organized into a coherent tissue capable of coordinating circadian rhythms in behavior and physiology. Here we undertake a comprehensive analysis of oscillatory function across the SCN of the adult PER2::LUC mouse by developing a novel approach involving multi-position bioluminescence imaging and unbiased computational analyses. We demonstrate that there is phase heterogeneity across all three dimensions of the SCN that is intrinsically regulated and extrinsically modulated by light in a region-specific manner. By investigating the mechanistic bases of SCN phase heterogeneity, we show for the first time that phase differences are not systematically related to regional differences in period, waveform, amplitude, or brightness. Furthermore, phase differences are not related to regional differences in the expression of arginine vasopressin and vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, two key neuropeptides characterizing functionally distinct subdivisions of the SCN. The consistency of SCN spatiotemporal organization across individuals and across planes of section suggests that the precise phasing of oscillators is a robust feature of the pacemaker important for its function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Luminescent Measurements
  • Mice
  • Neuropeptides / analysis
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / ultrastructure*


  • Neuropeptides