Functional Significance of the Excitatory Effects of GABA in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus

J Biol Rhythms. 2018 Aug;33(4):376-387. doi: 10.1177/0748730418782820. Epub 2018 Jul 5.


Over 90% of neurons within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) express γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Although GABA is primarily an inhibitory neurotransmitter, in vitro studies suggest that the activation of GABAA receptors (GABAAR) elicits excitation in the adult SCN. The ratio of excitatory to inhibitory responses to GABA depends on the balance of chloride influx by Na+-K+-Cl- cotransporter 1 (NKCC1) and chloride efflux by K+-Cl- cotransporters (KCCs). Excitatory responses to GABA can be blocked by inhibition of the inward chloride cotransporter, NKCC1, with the loop diuretic bumetanide. Here we investigated the role of NKCC1 activity in phase shifting the circadian pacemaker in response to photic and nonphotic signals in male Syrian hamsters housed in constant darkness. In the early subjective night (CT 13.5), injection of bumetanide into the SCN reduced light-induced phase delays. However, during the late subjective night (CT 19), bumetanide administration did not alter light-induced phase advances. Injection of bumetanide during the subjective day (CT 6) did not alter the phase of free-running circadian rhythms but attenuated phase advances induced by injection of the GABAAR agonist muscimol into the SCN. These data support the hypothesis that the excitatory effects of endogenously released GABA contribute to the ability of light to induce phase delays, thereby contributing to the most important function of the circadian system, its entrainment with the day-night cycle. Further, the finding that bumetanide inhibits the phase-advancing effects of muscimol during the subjective day supports the hypothesis that the excitatory responses to GABA also contribute to the ability of nonphotic stimuli to phase shift the circadian pacemaker.

Keywords: GABA; GABAA receptors; NKCC1; chloride; circadian; entrainment; phase shifting.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bumetanide / administration & dosage
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects*
  • Cricetinae
  • Darkness
  • Male
  • Mesocricetus
  • Photoperiod*
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism
  • Solute Carrier Family 12, Member 2 / genetics
  • Solute Carrier Family 12, Member 2 / pharmacology*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / drug effects
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • Receptors, GABA
  • Solute Carrier Family 12, Member 2
  • Bumetanide
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid