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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1998 May 26;95(11):6097-102.

Vitamin B2-based blue-light photoreceptors in the retinohypothalamic tract as the photoactive pigments for setting the circadian clock in mammals.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.


In mammals the retina contains photoactive molecules responsible for both vision and circadian photoresponse systems. Opsins, which are located in rods and cones, are the pigments for vision but it is not known whether they play a role in circadian regulation. A subset of retinal ganglion cells with direct projections to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) are at the origin of the retinohypothalamic tract that transmits the light signal to the master circadian clock in the SCN. However, the ganglion cells are not known to contain rhodopsin or other opsins that may function as photoreceptors. We have found that the two blue-light photoreceptors, cryptochromes 1 and 2 (CRY1 and CRY2), recently discovered in mammals are specifically expressed in the ganglion cell and inner nuclear layers of the mouse retina. In addition, CRY1 is expressed at high level in the SCN and oscillates in this tissue in a circadian manner. These data, in conjunction with the established role of CRY2 in photoperiodism in plants, lead us to propose that mammals have a vitamin A-based photopigment (opsin) for vision and a vitamin B2-based pigment (cryptochrome) for entrainment of the circadian clock.

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