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J Biol Rhythms. 2001 Jun;16(3):196-204.

SCN efferents to peripheral tissues: implications for biological rhythms.

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Department of Biology, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Georgia State University, Atlanta 30303-3083, USA.


The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is the principal generator of circadian rhythms and is part of an entrainment system that synchronizes the animal with its environment. Here, we review the possible communication of timing information from the SCN to peripheral tissues involved in regulating fundamental physiological functions as revealed using a viral, transneuronal tract tracer, the pseudorabies virus (PRV). The sympathetic nervous system innervation of the pineal gland and the sympathetic outflow from brain to white adipose tissue were the first demonstrations of SCN-peripheral tissue connections. The inclusion of the SCN as part of these and other circuits was the result of lengthened postviral injection times compared with those used previously. Subsequently, the SCN has been found to be part of the sympathetic outflow from the brain to brown adipose tissue, thyroid gland, kidney, bladder, spleen, adrenal medulla, and perhaps the adrenal cortex. The SCN also is involved in the parasympathetic nervous system innervation of the thyroid, liver, pancreas, and submandibular gland. Individual SCN neurons appear connected to more than one autonomic circuit involving both sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation of a single tissue, or sympathetic innervation of two different peripheral tissues. Collectively, the results of these PRV studies require an expansion of the traditional roles of the SCN to include the autonomic innervation of peripheral tissues and perhaps the modulation of neuroendocrine systems traditionally thought to be controlled solely by hypothalamic stimulating/inhibiting factors.

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