Syrian hamsters, Mesocricetus auratus, were confined to novel running wheels for a 3-h period, starting at approximately circadian time (CT) 4.5 (i.e., approaching the middle of their subjective day). It can be reliably predicted from the amount of running in this situation whether or not there will be a subsequent phase-shift. Expression of the immediate early genes c-fos and fosB was examined by immunocytochemistry in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), the intergeniculate leaflet (IGL) of the thalamus, and the medial pretectal area of hamsters that ran vigorously in the novel wheel and would have phase-shifted. c-Fos was increased, compared to levels in a control group left in their home cages, in the IGL, and the pretectum (PT), but decreased in the SCN. No significant changes in FosB were detected in any region examined. An additional experiment argued against the possibility that the changes in c-Fos could be attributed to a rapid advance of the pacemaker to a different phase in the circadian cycle. Counts of c-Fos-positive cells in the IGL were similar in animals given pulses of running starting at CT 4.5 and starting at CT 12.5-16 (i.e., in the subjective night when they would have been active anyway). Altogether the results support the view that activation of the IGL is important in nonphotic clock resetting, and raise the possibility that the PT may also be involved in nonphotic resetting. However, the results also indicate that novelty-induced running does not alter c-Fos induction in a phase-specific manner in the IGL. The inhibition of c-Fos in the SCN by nonphotic phase-shifting events contrasts with the well-known inducing effects of light pulses. These different effects might underlie some of the interactions between nonphotic and photic zeitgebers when both act together on the circadian system.