Cellular communication in the circadian clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus

Neuroscience. 1993 Oct;56(4):793-811. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(93)90128-3.


The hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus functions as the circadian clock in the mammalian brain. Communication between the cells of the suprachiasmatic nucleus is likely to be responsible for the generation and accuracy of this biological clock. Communication between many cells of the brain is mediated by action potentials that pass down the axon and cause release of neurotransmitters at the neuronal synaptic junction. Additional mechanisms of cellular communication appear to operate in the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Several lines of evidence point to multiple modes of cellular communication: these include the continuing operation of the clock after Na(+)-mediated action potentials have been blocked, the orchestrated metabolic rhythms of suprachiasmatic nucleus cells prior to synaptogenesis, the entrainment of fetal to maternal rhythms, and the rapid recovery of function after suprachiasmatic nucleus transplants into arrhythmic rodents. Possible alternative means of intercellular communication in the suprachiasmatic nucleus are examined, including calcium spikes in presynaptic dendrites, ephaptic interaction, paracrine communication, glial mediation, and gap junctions. This paper identifies and examines some of the unanswered questions related to intercellular communication of suprachiasmatic nucleus cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Brain Tissue Transplantation
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Cell Communication*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Hibernation / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamus, Anterior / physiology
  • Intercellular Junctions / physiology
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Retina / physiology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / transplantation


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Calcium