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Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2013 Oct;23(5):747-51. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2013.04.004. Epub 2013 May 22.

The central circadian timing system.

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Department of Neurology, Division of Sleep Medicine, and Program in Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, United States. Electronic address:


It has been known since the 1970s that the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is the brain's main biological clock, and since the 1990s that it uses a genetic clock based on transcriptional-translational loops to tell time. However, the recent demonstration that many other cells in the brain and the body also make use of the same genetic clock raises the question of how the SCN synchronizes all of the other clocks to arrive at a coherent circadian profile of physiology and behavior. In this review, we re-examine the evidence that the SCN clock is necessary for bringing order to the body's biological rhythms, and the circuitry of the circadian timing system by which it accomplishes this goal. Finally, we review the evidence that under conditions of restricted food availability, other clocks may be able to take over from the SCN to determine rhythms of behavior and physiology.

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