The circadian visual system

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1994 Jan;19(1):102-27. doi: 10.1016/0165-0173(94)90005-1.


The retina transduces photic stimuli and transmits that information centrally for further processing. This review emphasizes the fact that the nervous system components governing circadian rhythmicity constitute a specialized subdivision of the vertebrate visual system. The brain houses different targets for retinal efferents parcellated according circadian or non-circadian function. Although the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), being the site of the master circadian clock, is necessary for the generation of circadian rhythmicity, precise phase regulation of any rhythm is subject to modulation by SCN-afferent processes. Photic information necessary for entrainment arrives at the SCN via the retinohypothalamic tract. The geniculohypothalamic tract, originating in the intergeniculate leaflet (IGL), provides a secondary route by which photic information can reach the SCN. It also projects extensively to the contralateral IGL and receives reciprocal input from the SCN region. An interaction between the circadian and non-circadian visual systems may exist through connections of the superior colliculus with ventrolateral geniculate leaflet (VLG) and IGL. The SCN, IGL, VLG and superior colliculus are all innervated by serotonin-containing fibers. The following observations are likely to have an impact beyond the rhythm field itself: certain transneuronal tracers label only the circadian visual system; c-fos protein synthesis is induced in the circadian, but not non-circadian, visual system by a phasically active stimulus; blockade of SCN action potentials is unable to alter circadian rhythmicity; transplantation of dispersed fetal SCN cells to arrhythmic adults restores circadian periodicity, but not phase response to light; and the IGL is actually a very extensive part of the lateral geniculate complex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Geniculate Bodies / cytology
  • Geniculate Bodies / physiology
  • Hypothalamus / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Retina / physiology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / cytology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents