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Fed Proc. 1979 Nov;38(12):2589-95.

Neural mechanisms for entrainment and generation of mammalian circadian rhythms.


The identification of a direct retinohypothalamic tract (RHT) terminating in the supra-chiasmatic nuclei (SCN) has focused attention on the role of these structures in the entrainment and generation of circadian rhythms in mammals. Light effects on circadian rhythms are mediated by both the RHT and portions of the classical visual system. The complex interactions of these systems are reflected both in their direct anatomical connections and in the functional changes in entrainment produced by interruption of either set of projections. Destruction of the RHT/SCN eliminated both normal entrainment and normal free-running circadian rhythms. No circadian rhythms has survived SCN ablation in rodents, but a variety of non-circadian cycles can be generated by lesioned animals. The complex behavioral patterns produced by SCN-lesioned hamsters suggest that circadian oscillators continue to function in these animals, but that their activity is no longer integrated into a single circadian framework. The available evidence indicates that the mammalian pacemaking system comprises a set of independent oscillators normally regulated by the SCN and by light information that is transmitted via several retinofugal pathways.

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