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Neuroscience. 2007 Nov 9;149(3):508-17. Epub 2007 Oct 24.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus functions beyond circadian rhythm generation.

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  • 1Division of Sleep Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Sleep Disorders @BIDMC, 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


We recently discovered that human activity possesses a complex temporal organization characterized by scale-invariant/self-similar fluctuations from seconds to approximately 4 h-(statistical properties of fluctuations remain the same at different time scales). Here, we show that scale-invariant activity patterns are essentially identical in humans and rats, and exist for up to approximately 24 h: six-times longer than previously reported. Theoretically, such scale-invariant patterns can be produced by a neural network of interacting control nodes-system components with feedback loops-operating at different time scales. However such control nodes have not yet been identified in any neurophysiological model of scale invariance/self-similarity in mammals. Here we demonstrate that the endogenous circadian pacemaker (suprachiasmatic nucleus; SCN), known to modulate locomotor activity with a periodicity of approximately 24 h, also acts as a major neural control node responsible for the generation of scale-invariant locomotor patterns over a broad range of time scales from minutes to at least 24 h (rather than solely at approximately 24 h). Remarkably, we found that SCN lesion in rats completely abolished the scale-invariant locomotor patterns between 4 and 24 h and significantly altered the patterns at time scales <4 h. Identification of the control nodes of a neural network responsible for scale invariance is the critical first step in understanding the neurophysiological origin of scale invariance/self-similarity.

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