Phase Gradients and Anisotropy of the Suprachiasmatic Network: Discovery of Phaseoids

eNeuro. 2021 Sep 9;8(5):ENEURO.0078-21.2021. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0078-21.2021. Print Sep-Oct 2021.


Biological neural networks operate at several levels of granularity, from the individual neuron to local neural circuits to networks of thousands of cells. The daily oscillation of the brain's master clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) rests on a yet to be identified network of connectivity among its ∼20,000 neurons. The SCN provides an accessible model to explore neural organization at several levels of organization. To relate cellular to local and global network behaviors, we explore network topology by examining SCN slices in three orientations using immunochemistry, light and confocal microscopy, real-time imaging, and mathematical modeling. Importantly, the results reveal small local groupings of neurons that form intermediate structures, here termed "phaseoids," which can be identified through stable local phase differences of varying magnitude among neighboring cells. These local differences in phase are distinct from the global phase relationship, namely that between individual cells and the mean oscillation of the overall SCN. The magnitude of the phaseoids' local phase differences is associated with a global phase gradient observed in the SCN's rostral-caudal extent. Modeling results show that a gradient in connectivity strength can explain the observed gradient of phaseoid strength, an extremely parsimonious explanation for the heterogeneous oscillatory structure of the SCN.

Keywords: circadian; network; oscillation; phase waves; vasoactive intestinal peptide; vasopressin.