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J Comp Physiol A. 1988 Apr;162(5):601-10.

Development of hamster circadian rhythms: role of the maternal suprachiasmatic nucleus.

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Department of Biology, University of Virginia, Charlottesville 22901.


During development, the circadian rhythms of rodents become entrained to rhythmicity of the mother. Rhythms in behavior and in neuroendocrine function are regulated by a circadian pacemaker thought to be located within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. Evidence indicates that this pacemaker begins to function and to be entrained by maternal rhythms before birth. Although the maternal rhythms which mediate prenatal entrainment of the fetal circadian pacemaker have not been identified, it is likely that they are regulated by the maternal SCN. The role of the maternal SCN in entrainment of the offspring was examined in Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) by measuring the activity/rest rhythms of pups. Using the synchrony among the rhythms of pups within a litter as an indication that the pups had been entrained, the effect on entrainment of ablating the maternal SCN was determined. Lesions of the maternal SCN which were performed early in gestation (day 7) and which destroyed at least 75% of the SCN were found to disrupt the normal within litter synchrony among pups, indicating interference with the normal mechanism of entrainment. The effect of lesions on day 7 of gestation could mean that the maternal SCN is important for entrainment of the pups before birth, after birth, or during both of these times. To determine if the maternal SCN is specifically important for prenatal entrainment, lesions were performed two days before birth on day 14 of gestation. Lesions of the maternal SCN on day 14 were not as disruptive as were lesions on day 7. This suggests that the maternal SCN is important between days 7 and 14 of gestation and that the synchrony normally observed at weaning is already established, in part, on or before day 14 of gestation. This further suggests that an entrainable circadian pacemaker is present in the fetus only two weeks after fertilization.

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