Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells (ipRGCs) Are Necessary for Light Entrainment of Peripheral Clocks

PLoS One. 2016 Dec 16;11(12):e0168651. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0168651. eCollection 2016.


Light is a powerful entrainer of circadian clocks in almost all eukaryotic organisms promoting synchronization of internal circadian rhythms with external environmental light-dark (LD) cycles. In mammals, the circadian system is organized in a hierarchical manner, in which a central pacemaker in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizes oscillators in peripheral tissues. Recent evidence demonstrates that photoentrainment of the SCN proceeds via signaling from a subpopulation of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) which are melanopsin-expressing and intrinsically photosensitive (ipRGCs). However, it is still unclear whether photoentrainment of peripheral clocks is mediated exclusively by the ipRGC system or if signaling from RGCs that do not express melanopsin also plays a role. Here we have used genetic "silencing" of ipRGC neurotransmission in mice to investigate whether this photoreceptive system is obligatory for the photoentrainment of peripheral circadian clocks. Genetic silencing of ipRGC neurotransmission in mice was achieved by expression of tetanus toxin light chain in melanopsin-expressing cells (Opn4::TeNT mouse line). Rhythms of the clock gene Period 2 in various peripheral tissues were measured by crossbreeding Opn4::TeNT mice with PER2 luciferase knock-in mice (mPER2Luc). We found that in Opn4::TeNT mice the pupillary light reflex, light modulation of activity, and circadian photoentrainment of locomotor activity were severely impaired. Furthermore, ex vivo cultures from Opn4::TeNT, mPER2Luc mice of the adrenal gland, cornea, lung, liver, pituitary and spleen exhibited robust circadian rhythms of PER2::LUC bioluminescence. However, their peak bioluminescence rhythms were not aligned to the projected LD cycles indicating their lack of photic entrainment in vivo. Finally, we found that the circadian rhythm in adrenal corticosterone in Opn4::TeNT mice, as monitored by in vivo subcutaneous microdialysis, was desynchronized from environmental LD cycles. Our findings reveal a non-redundant role of ipRGCs for photic entrainment of peripheral tissues, highlighting the importance of this photoreceptive system for the organismal adaptation to daily environmental LD cycles.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Clocks*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Corticosterone / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Period Circadian Proteins / metabolism
  • Retinal Ganglion Cells / physiology*
  • Rod Opsins / genetics*
  • Rod Opsins / metabolism
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / metabolism
  • Tetanus Toxin / metabolism*


  • Per2 protein, mouse
  • Period Circadian Proteins
  • Rod Opsins
  • Tetanus Toxin
  • melanopsin
  • Corticosterone