Coupling Controls the Synchrony of Clock Cells in Development and Knockouts

Biophys J. 2015 Nov 17;109(10):2159-70. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2015.09.024.


In mammals, a network of coupled neurons within the hypothalamus coordinates physiological rhythms with daily changes in the environment. In each neuron, delayed negative transcriptional feedbacks generate oscillations, albeit noisy and unreliable ones. Coupling mediated by diffusible neuropeptides lends precision and robustness to circadian rhythms. The double knockout of Cryptochrome Cry turns adult mice arrhythmic. But, remarkably, double knockout neonates continue to show robust oscillation much like wild-type neonates and appear to lose rhythmicity with development. We study quantitatively dispersed neurons and brain slices from wild-type and Cry double knockout mice to understand the links between single cell rhythmicity and intercellular coupling. We quantify oscillator properties of dispersed cells using nonlinear regression and study bifurcations diagrams of network models. We find that varying just three parameters-oscillator strength, strength of coupling, and timing of coupling-can reproduce experimentally observed features. In particular, modeling reveals that minor changes in timing of coupling can destroy synchronization as observed in adult slices from knockout mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / genetics*
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cryptochromes / genetics*
  • Cryptochromes / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology


  • Cry1 protein, mouse
  • Cryptochromes