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Neuroscience. 2017 Aug 15;357:1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.05.037. Epub 2017 May 31.

Cellular circadian oscillators in the suprachiasmatic nucleus remain coupled in the absence of connexin-36.

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatry and Center for Circadian Biology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States.
2
Department of Psychiatry and Center for Circadian Biology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States; Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, United States. Electronic address: dolandgraf@gmail.com.
3
Department of Psychiatry and Center for Circadian Biology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, United States; Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA, United States.

Abstract

In mammals, the master circadian clock resides in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is characterized by robust circadian oscillations of clock gene expression and neuronal firing. The synchronization of circadian oscillations among individual cells in the SCN is attributed to intercellular coupling. Previous studies have shown that gap junctions, specifically those composed of connexin-36 (Cx36) subunits, are required for coupling of electrical firing among SCN neurons at a time scale of milliseconds. However, it remains unknown whether Cx36 gap junctions also contribute to coupling of circadian (∼24h) rhythms of clock gene expression. Here, we investigated circadian expression patterns of the clock gene Period 2 (Per2) in the SCN of Cx36-deficient mice using luminometry and single-cell bioluminescence imaging. Surprisingly, we found that synchronization of circadian PER2 expression rhythms is maintained in SCN explants from Cx36-deficient mice. Since Cx36 expression levels change with age, we also tested circadian running-wheel behavior of juvenile (3-4weeks old) and adult (9-30weeks old) Cx36-deficient mice. We found that impact of connexin-36 expression on circadian behavior changes greatly during postnatal development. However, consistent with the intact synchrony among SCN cells in cultured explants, Cx36-deficient mice had intact locomotor circadian rhythms, although adults displayed a lengthened period in constant darkness. Our data indicate that even though Cx36 may be required for electrical coupling of SCN cells, it does not affect coupling of molecular clock gene rhythms. Thus, electrical coupling of neurons and coupling of circadian clock gene oscillations can be regulated independently in the SCN.

KEYWORDS:

SCN; circadian; connexin-36; coupling; gap junctions

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