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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2002 Jan;92(1):401-8.

A neural clockwork for encoding circadian time.

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Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


Many daily biological rhythms are governed by an innate timekeeping mechanism or clock. Endogenous, temperature-compensated circadian clocks have been localized to discrete sites within the nervous systems of a number of organisms. In mammals, the master circadian pacemaker is the bilaterally paired suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the anterior hypothalamus. The SCN is composed of multiple single cell oscillators that must synchronize to each other and the environmental light schedule. Other tissues, including those outside the nervous system, have also been shown to express autonomous circadian periodicities. This review examines 1) how intracellular regulatory molecules function in the oscillatory mechanism and in its entrainment to environmental cycles; 2) how individual SCN cells interact to create an integrated tissue pacemaker with coherent metabolic, electrical, and secretory rhythms; and 3) how such clock outputs are converted into temporal programs for the whole organism.

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