Impaired circadian photosensitivity in mice lacking glutamate transmission from retinal melanopsin cells

J Biol Rhythms. 2015 Feb;30(1):35-41. doi: 10.1177/0748730414561545. Epub 2014 Dec 15.


Intrinsically photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) contain the photopigment melanopsin and convey retinal light inputs to the circadian system via the retinohypothalamic tract (RHT) projection to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The principal neurotransmitter of this projection is glutamate, and ipRGCs use the vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGLUT2) to package glutamate into synaptic vesicles. However, these neurons contain other potential neurotransmitters, such as pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP). To test the role of glutamate in mediating ipRGC light inputs into the SCN, we crossed mice in which Cre-recombinase expression is driven by the melanopsin promotor (Opn4(Cre/+)) with mice in which the second exon of VGLUT2 is flanked by loxP sites (VGLUT2(fl/fl)), producing ipRGCs that are unable to package glutamate into synaptic vesicles. Such mice had free-running circadian rhythms that did not entrain to a 12:12 light-dark (12:12 LD) cycle, nor did they show a phase delay after a 45-min light pulse administered at circadian time (CT) 14. A small subset of the mice did appear to entrain to the 12:12 LD cycle with a positive phase angle to lights-off; a similar entrainment pattern could be achieved in free-running mice if they were exposed to a 12:12 LD cycle with light of a greater intensity. Glutamate transmission from the ipRGCs is necessary for normal light entrainment of the SCN at moderate (0.35 W/m(2)) light levels, but residual transmission (possibly by PACAP in ipRGCs or by other RGCs) can weakly entrain animals, particularly at very high (6.53 W/m(2)) light levels, although it may be less effective at suppressing locomotor activity (light masking).

Keywords: light entrainment; masking; melanopsin; retina; suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN); vesicular glutamate transporter 2 (VGLUT2).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Light*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / chemistry
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Rod Opsins / analysis*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Pituitary Adenylate Cyclase-Activating Polypeptide
  • Rod Opsins
  • melanopsin
  • Glutamic Acid