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Chronobiol Int. 2001 Jul;18(4):579-600.

Cellular communication and coupling within the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

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  • 1Institut für Zoologie, Universität Leipzig, Germany.


In mammals, the part of the nervous system responsible for most circadian behavior can be localized to a pair of structures in the hypothalamus known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Importantly, when SCN neurons are removed from the organism and maintained in a brain slice preparation, they continue to generate 24h rhythms in electrical activity, secretion, and gene expression. Previous studies suggest that the basic mechanism responsible for the generation of these rhythms is intrinsic to individual cells in the SCN. If we assume that individual cells in the SCN are competent circadian oscillators, it is obviously important to understand how these cells communicate and remain synchronized with each other. Cell-to-cell communication is clearly necessary for conveying inputs to and outputs from the SCN and may be involved in ensuring the high precision of the observed rhythm. In addition, there is a growing body of evidence that a number of systems-level phenomena could be dependent on the cellular communication between circadian pacemaker neurons. It is not yet known how this cellular synchronization occurs, but it is likely that more than one of the already proposed mechanisms is utilized. The purpose of this review is to summarize briefly the possible mechanisms by which the oscillatory cells in the SCN communicate with each other.

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