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J Neurophysiol. 2002 Aug;88(2):817-28.

Excitatory mechanisms in the suprachiasmatic nucleus: the role of AMPA/KA glutamate receptors.

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Mental Retardation Research Center, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles 90024-1759, USA.


A variety of evidence suggests that the effects of light on the mammalian circadian system are mediated by direct retinal ganglion cell projection to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This synaptic connection is glutamatergic and the release of glutamate is detected by both N-methyl-D-asparate (NMDA) and amino-methyl proprionic acid/kainate (AMPA/KA) iontotropic glutamate receptors (GluRs). It is well established that NMDA GluRs play a critical role in mediating the effects of light on the circadian system; however, the role of AMPA/KA GluRs has received less attention. In the present study, we sought to better understand the contribution of AMPA/KA-mediated currents in the circadian system based in the SCN. First, whole cell patch-clamp electrophysiological techniques were utilized to measure spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs) from SCN neurons. These currents were widespread in the SCN and not just restricted to the retino-recipient region. The sEPSC frequency and amplitude did not vary with the daily cycle. Similarly, currents evoked by the exogenous application of AMPA onto SCN neurons were widespread within the SCN and did not exhibit a diurnal rhythm in their magnitude. Fluorometric techniques were utilized to estimate AMPA-induced calcium (Ca(2+)) concentration changes in SCN neurons. The resulting data indicate that AMPA-evoked Ca(2+) transients were widespread in the SCN and that there was a daily rhythm in the magnitude of AMPA-induced Ca(2+) transients that peaked during the night. By itself, blocking AMPA/KA GluRs with a receptor blocker decreased the spontaneous firing of some SCN neurons as well as reduced resting Ca(2+) levels, suggesting tonic glutamatergic excitation. Finally, immunohistochemical techniques were used to describe expression of the AMPA-preferring GluR subunits GluR1 and GluR2/3s within the SCN. Overall, our data suggest that glutamatergic synaptic transmission mediated by AMPA/KA GluRs play an important role throughout the SCN synaptic circuitry.

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