Vulnerability to helpless behavior is regulated by the circadian clock component CRYPTOCHROME in the mouse nucleus accumbens

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jun 16;117(24):13771-13782. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2000258117. Epub 2020 Jun 2.


The nucleus accumbens (NAc), a central component of the midbrain dopamine reward circuit, exhibits disturbed circadian rhythms in the postmortem brains of depressed patients. We hypothesized that normal mood regulation requires proper circadian timing in the NAc, and that mood disorders are associated with dysfunctions of the NAc cellular circadian clock. In mice exhibiting stress-induced depression-like behavior (helplessness), we found altered circadian clock function and high nighttime expression of the core circadian clock component CRYPTOCHROME (CRY) in the NAc. In the NAc of helpless mice, we found that higher expression of CRY is associated with decreased activation of dopamine 1 receptor-expressing medium spiny neurons (D1R-MSNs). Furthermore, D1R-MSN-specific CRY-knockdown in the NAc reduced susceptibility to stress-induced helplessness and increased NAc neuronal activation at night. Finally, we show that CRY inhibits D1R-induced G protein activation, likely by interacting with the Gs protein. Altered circadian rhythms and CRY expression were also observed in human fibroblasts from major depressive disorder patients. Our data reveal a causal role for CRY in regulating the midbrain dopamine reward system, and provide a mechanistic link between the NAc circadian clock and vulnerability to depression.

Keywords: Cryptochrome; circadian rhythm; depression; nucleus accumbens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Circadian Clocks*
  • Cryptochromes / metabolism*
  • Depression / genetics
  • Depression / metabolism*
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Female
  • Helplessness, Learned
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Dopamine / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism


  • Cryptochromes
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Dopamine