Circadian behavior in mammals is orchestrated by neurons within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), yet the neuronal population necessary for the generation of timekeeping remains unknown. We show that a subset of SCN neurons expressing the neuropeptide neuromedin S (NMS) plays an essential role in the generation of daily rhythms in behavior. We demonstrate that lengthening period within Nms neurons is sufficient to lengthen period of the SCN and behavioral circadian rhythms. Conversely, mice without a functional molecular clock within Nms neurons lack synchronous molecular oscillations and coherent behavioral daily rhythms. Interestingly, we found that mice lacking Nms and its closely related paralog, Nmu, do not lose in vivo circadian rhythms. However, blocking vesicular transmission from Nms neurons with intact cell-autonomous clocks disrupts the timing mechanisms of the SCN, revealing that Nms neurons define a subpopulation of pacemakers that control SCN network synchrony and in vivo circadian rhythms through intercellular synaptic transmission.
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