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Bioessays. 2000 Jan;22(1):23-31.

Circadian clocks in the mammalian brain.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


Daily cycles in physiology and behaviour are probably a universal feature of multicellular organisms. These rhythms are predominantly driven by endogenous clocks with a periodicity approximating to one day, i.e. circadian. In mammals, the circadian clock governing activity/ rest, neuroendocrine and autonomic rhythms lies in the hypothalamus, in the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN). Intrinsic circadian oscillators are also present in the retina. The SCN "clockwork" is based on a cell autonomous, genetically determined mechanism. Mammalian homologues of a number of Drosophila genes which encode elements of the fly circadian mechanism have recently been identified. In Drosophila, the protein products of these genes interact in a negative feedback loop, establishing a circadian cycle in gene expression. Characterisation of the roles played by putative mammalian clock genes in the SCN, and how the emergent cellular signal imposes order over the entire neuraxis, will provide a fundamental contribution to our understanding of the molecular basis of behaviour. BioEssays 22:23-31, 2000.

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