Suprachiasmatic nucleus function and circadian entrainment are modulated by G protein-coupled inwardly rectifying (GIRK) channels

J Physiol. 2014 Nov 15;592(22):5079-92. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2014.282079. Epub 2014 Sep 12.


G protein signalling within the central circadian oscillator, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), is essential for conveying time-of-day information. We sought to determine whether G protein-coupled inwardly rectifying potassium channels (GIRKs) modulate SCN physiology and circadian behaviour. We show that GIRK current and GIRK2 protein expression are greater during the day. Pharmacological inhibition of GIRKs and genetic loss of GIRK2 depolarized the day-time resting membrane potential of SCN neurons compared to controls. Behaviourally, GIRK2 knockout (KO) mice failed to shorten free running period in response to wheel access in constant darkness and entrained more rapidly to a 6 h advance of a 12 h:12 h light-dark (LD) cycle than wild-type (WT) littermate controls. We next examined whether these effects were due to disrupted signalling of neuropeptide Y (NPY), which is known to mediate non-photic phase shifts, attenuate photic phase shifts and activate GIRKs. Indeed, GIRK2 KO SCN slices had significantly fewer silent cells in response to NPY, likely contributing to the absence of NPY-induced phase advances of PER2::LUC rhythms in organotypic SCN cultures from GIRK2 KO mice. Finally, GIRK channel activation is sufficient to cause a non-photic-like phase advance of PER2::LUC rhythms on a Per2(Luc+/-) background. These results suggest that rhythmic regulation of GIRK2 protein and channel function in the SCN contributes to day-time resting membrane potential, providing a mechanism for the fine tuning responses to non-photic and photic stimuli. Further investigation could provide insight into disorders with circadian disruption comorbidities such as epilepsy and addiction, in which GIRK channels have been implicated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels / genetics
  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels / metabolism*
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Neuropeptide Y / metabolism
  • Period Circadian Proteins / genetics
  • Period Circadian Proteins / metabolism
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / cytology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology


  • G Protein-Coupled Inwardly-Rectifying Potassium Channels
  • Kcnj6 protein, mouse
  • Neuropeptide Y
  • Per2 protein, mouse
  • Period Circadian Proteins