Neuropeptide signaling differentially affects phase maintenance and rhythm generation in SCN and extra-SCN circadian oscillators

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 29;6(4):e18926. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018926.


Circadian rhythms in physiology and behavior are coordinated by the brain's dominant circadian pacemaker located in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) of the hypothalamus. Vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP) and its receptor, VPAC(2), play important roles in the functioning of the SCN pacemaker. Mice lacking VPAC(2) receptors (Vipr2(-/-)) express disrupted behavioral and metabolic rhythms and show altered SCN neuronal activity and clock gene expression. Within the brain, the SCN is not the only site containing endogenous circadian oscillators, nor is it the only site of VPAC(2) receptor expression; both VPAC(2) receptors and rhythmic clock gene/protein expression have been noted in the arcuate (Arc) and dorsomedial (DMH) nuclei of the mediobasal hypothalamus, and in the pituitary gland. The functional role of VPAC(2) receptors in rhythm generation and maintenance in these tissues is, however, unknown. We used wild type (WT) and Vipr2(-/-) mice expressing a luciferase reporter (PER2::LUC) to investigate whether circadian rhythms in the clock gene protein PER2 in these extra-SCN tissues were compromised by the absence of the VPAC(2) receptor. Vipr2(-/-) SCN cultures expressed significantly lower amplitude PER2::LUC oscillations than WT SCN. Surprisingly, in Vipr2(-/-) Arc/ME/PT complex (Arc, median eminence and pars tuberalis), DMH and pituitary, the period, amplitude and rate of damping of rhythms were not significantly different to WT. Intriguingly, while we found WT SCN and Arc/ME/PT tissues to maintain a consistent circadian phase when cultured, the phase of corresponding Vipr2(-/-) cultures was reset by cull/culture procedure. These data demonstrate that while the main rhythm parameters of extra-SCN circadian oscillations are maintained in Vipr2(-/-) mice, the ability of these oscillators to resist phase shifts is compromised. These deficiencies may contribute towards the aberrant behavior and metabolism associated with Vipr2(-/-) animals. Further, our data indicate a link between circadian rhythm strength and the ability of tissues to resist circadian phase resetting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Colforsin / metabolism
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Gastrin-Releasing Peptide / chemistry
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neuropeptides / chemistry*
  • Oscillometry / methods*
  • Period Circadian Proteins / genetics
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • Receptors, Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide, Type II / genetics*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism*


  • Neuropeptides
  • Per2 protein, mouse
  • Period Circadian Proteins
  • Receptors, Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide, Type II
  • Vipr2 protein, mouse
  • Colforsin
  • Gastrin-Releasing Peptide