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Chronobiol Int. 1999 May;16(3):281-91.

Food-entrained feeding and locomotor circadian rhythms in rats under different lighting conditions.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Faculty of Biology, University of Murcia, Spain.


It has been suggested that two endogenous timekeeping systems, a light-entrainable pacemaker (LEP) and a food-entrainable pacemaker (FEP), control circadian rhythms. To understand the function and interaction between these two mechanisms better, we studied two behavioral circadian rhythmicities, feeding and locomotor activity, in rats exposed to two conflicting zeitgebers, food restriction and light-dark cycles. For this, the food approaches and wheel-running activity of rats kept under light-dark (LD) 12:12, constant darkness (DD), or constant light (LL) conditions and subjected to different scheduled feeding patterns were continuously recorded. To facilitate comparison of the results obtained under the different lighting conditions, the period of the feeding cycles was set in all three cases about 1h less than the light-entrained or free-running circadian rhythms. The results showed that, depending on the lighting conditions, some components of the feeding and wheel-running circadian rhythms could be entrained by food pulses, while others retained their free-running or light-entrained state. Under LD, food pulses had little influence on the light-entrained feeding and locomotor rhythms. Under DD, relative coordination between free-running and food-associated rhythms may appear. In both cases, the feeding activity associated with the food pulses could be divided into a prominent phase-dependent peak of activity within the period of food availability and another afterward. Wheel-running activity mainly followed the food pulses. Under LL conditions, the food-entrained activity consisted mainly of feeding and wheel-running anticipatory activity. The results provide new evidence that lighting conditions influence the establishment and persistence of food-entrained circadian rhythms in rats. The existence of two coupled pacemakers, LEP and FEP, or a multioscillatory LEP may both explain our experimental results.

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