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J Comp Neurol. 2010 Apr 15;518(8):1249-63. doi: 10.1002/cne.22272.

Specializations of gastrin-releasing peptide cells of the mouse suprachiasmatic nucleus.

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Institut Nationale de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM), U846, Stem Cell and Brain Research Institute, Department of Chronobiology, F-69500, Bron, France.


The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus regulates daily rhythms in physiology and behavior. It is composed of a heterogeneous population of cells that together form the circuits underlying its master clock function. Numerous studies suggest the existence of two regions that have been termed core and shell. At a gross level, differences between these regions map to distinct functional differences, although the specific role(s) of various peptidergic cellular phenotypes remains unknown. In mouse, gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) cells lie in the core, are directly retinorecipient, and lack detectable rhythmicity in clock gene expression, raising interest in their role in the SCN. Here, we provide evidence that calbindin-expressing cells of perinatal mouse SCN express GRP, identified by a green fluorescent protein (GFP+), but lack detectable calbindin later in development. To explore the intra-SCN network in which GRP neurons participate, individual GFP+ cells were filled with tracer and their morphological characteristics, processes, and connections, as well as those of their non-GFP-containing immediate neighbors, were compared. The results show that GFP+ neurons form a dense network of local circuits within the core, revealed by appositions on other GFP+ cells and by the presence of dye-coupled cells. Dendrites and axons of GFP+ cells make appositions on arginine vasopressin neurons, whereas non-GFP cells have a less extensive fiber network, largely confined to the region of GFP+ cells. The results point to specialized circuitry within the SCN, presumably supporting synchronization of neural activity and reciprocal communication between core and shell regions.

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