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J Biol Rhythms. 2003 Jun;18(3):235-49.

In search of the pathways for light-induced pacemaker resetting in the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, Leiden University Medical Centre, 2300 RC Leiden, the Netherlands.


Within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the mammalian hypothalamus is a circadian pacemaker that functions as a clock. Its endogenous period is adjusted to the external 24-h light-dark cycle, primarily by light-induced phase shifts that reset the pacemaker's oscillation. Evidence using a wide variety of neurobiological and molecular genetic tools has elucidated key elements that comprise the visual input pathway for SCN photoentrainment in rodents. Important questions remain regarding the intracellular signals that reset the autoregulatory molecular loop within photoresponsive cells in the SCN's retino-recipient subdivision, as well as the intercellular coupling mechanisms that enable SCN tissue to generate phase shifts of overt behavioral and physiological circadian rhythms such as locomotion and SCN neuronal firing rate. Multiple neurotransmitters, protein kinases, and photoinducible genes add to system complexity, and we still do not fully understand how dawn and dusk light pulses ultimately produce bidirectional, advancing and delaying phase shifts for pacemaker entrainment.

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